URLs du Jour

2020-07-31

  • For the second day in a row, Mr. Ramirez provides our eye candy:

    [Earwax]

    I recommend clicking through for a full-size version. And if you need more information on what it's about, see the Free Beacon (with amusing video).

    Yuval Levin has a book out, A Time to Build, where he argues that many American institutions (definitely including Congress) are "not formative but performative". Where the denizents go to act, rather than be. I think it's on my TTR list.

  • Paul Graham's latest essay is The Four Quadrants of Conformism.

    One of the most revealing ways to classify people is by the degree and aggressiveness of their conformism. Imagine a Cartesian coordinate system whose horizontal axis runs from conventional-minded on the left to independent-minded on the right, and whose vertical axis runs from passive at the bottom to aggressive at the top. The resulting four quadrants define four types of people. Starting in the upper left and going counter-clockwise: aggressively conventional-minded, passively conventional-minded, passively independent-minded, and aggressively independent-minded.

    Calls out for illustration. Pretty easy with LibreOffice Draw:

    Conformism

    And let's think of some more, um, descriptive labels…

    Young children offer some of the best evidence for both points. Anyone who's been to primary school has seen the four types, and the fact that school rules are so arbitrary is strong evidence that the quadrant people fall into depends more on them than the rules.

    The kids in the upper left quadrant, the aggressively conventional-minded ones, are the tattletales. They believe not only that rules must be obeyed, but that those who disobey them must be punished.

    The kids in the lower left quadrant, the passively conventional-minded, are the sheep. They're careful to obey the rules, but when other kids break them, their impulse is to worry that those kids will be punished, not to ensure that they will.

    The kids in the lower right quadrant, the passively independent-minded, are the dreamy ones. They don't care much about rules and probably aren't 100% sure what the rules even are.

    And the kids in the upper right quadrant, the aggressively independent-minded, are the naughty ones. When they see a rule, their first impulse is to question it. Merely being told what to do makes them inclined to do the opposite.

    So here you go:

    Conformism

    I see this a something that might be illuminating in a job interview: "Where do you see yourself on this graph? Where do you see yourself in five years?"

    Probably also grounds for a lawsuit, if your interviewee is in the upper-left.


  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum shakes his head in befuddlement: Linda Greenhouse Thinks COVID-19 Rules That Favor Casinos Over Churches Raise No Constitutional Issues Worth Considering.

    Linda Greenhouse, who covered the Supreme Court for The New York Times from 1978 to 2008, was "startled" by the sympathy that four justices recently expressed for a Nevada church's challenge to the state's 50-person cap on religious services. In an op-ed piece published today, Greenhouse argues that the justices' dissent from last Friday's decision against granting Calvary Chapel in Dayton an injunction pending appeal irrationally elevates religious concerns above public health. She says the dissenting justices—Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh—"appear oblivious to the facts on the ground, particularly the well-documented role of religious services in spreading the virus."

    To the contrary, it is Greenhouse who seems oblivious to the facts—in particular, Nevada's arbitrary distinction between houses of worship and businesses that pose similar or greater risks of COVID-19 transmission. Those favored businesses include bars, restaurants, gyms, arcades, bowling alleys, and, most conspicuously, casinos, where thousands of people from around the country have been gathering to try their luck since Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak allowed the gambling palaces to reopen on June 4. All of those businesses are permitted to operate at 50 percent of capacity, while churches, synagogues, and mosques may admit no more than 50 people at a time, regardless of their capacity. A church with seating for 500 people, for example, may not exceed one-tenth of its capacity.

    Roll that around your brain for a few seconds: a past SCOTUS reporter for the New York Times apparently doesn't understand the religious liberty argument well enough to even disagree with it.


  • I alluded to this possible silver lining a couple days ago. David Henderson in the WSJ thinks: The Virus May Strike Teachers Unions.

    If you have school-age children, you may be wondering if they’ll ever get an education. On Tuesday the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest education union, threatened “safety strikes” if reopening plans aren’t to its liking. Some state and local governments are insisting that public K-12 schooling this fall be conducted online three to five days a week and imposing stringent conditions on those students who actually make it to the classroom.

    Yet there are three reasons to be optimistic about the future of education. First, many parents will be more prepared to home-school their kids than they were in the spring. They or their hired teachers will do a better job of educating children, in many cases, than the public schools.

    Second, once the pandemic ends, many parents, perhaps millions, will have a new appreciation of how mediocre a job the public schools were doing. They will continue home-schooling, switch to a private school, or push hard to end restrictions on the growth of charter schools. Third, as schools sit empty and homebound teachers draw their regular salaries for less effective work, there will be more opposition to more funding for public schools, which, in turn, will make local school boards amenable to lower-cost options such as charter schools.

    Probably paywalled. David has a summary at Econlib: The Coming Renaissance in K-12 Education. A waggish commentator notes that his governor forced car insurance companies to rebate some premiums to their customers, thanks to decreased driving. But good luck getting rebates on your taxes due to decreased use of government schools.


  • At Cato, Michael D. Tanner is not a fan of Trump, Zoning, and Discrimination.

    Exclusionary zoning has all sorts of consequences that lock people out of the middle class. Educational opportunities, for instance, are too often distributed by zip code, especially in the absence of meaningful parental choice. Exclusionary zoning too often “ghettoizes” the poor and people of color, forcing them into neighborhoods with few jobs, high crime rates, and bad schools. And, by driving up housing prices, it contributes to the soaring epidemic of homelessness in many areas of the country.

    Now, President Trump has thrown his support behind those who want to keep affordable housing out of the suburbs. This week he announced an executive order making changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH), an Obama‐​era requirement that localities take steps to combat housing discrimination in their communities. In isolation, it could be argued that the AFFH was unwieldy, unnecessarily intrusive, and in need of reform, but the administration’s actions appear to be part of a larger campaign by Trump and his supporters to block zoning reform that would make affordable housing more widely available in affluent communities. As Trump himself tweeted about his actions, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.”

    Tanner is correct to dislike exclusionary zoning. But I think he ignores how AFFH was actually implemented. For example, in Dubuque, Iowa.

    And I think his premise that there must be a Federal solution to exclusionary zoning is incorrect. Where in the Constitution are the Feds given the power to regulate such matters?

    Unless, of course, there's a violation of civil rights. But I'm pretty sure that's not alleged.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-30

  • Michael Ramirez notes the cravenness of one of those sportsball businesses:

    [Free Hong Kong]

    Or, to adapt an old joke: "Free Hong Kong, with the purchase of a Hong Kong of equal or greater value."


  • So I saw this. Guess the speaker.

    My mom, Jackie, had me when she was a 17-year-old high school student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Being pregnant in high school was not popular in Albuquerque in 1964. It was difficult for her. When they tried to kick her out of school, my grandfather went to bat for her. After some negotiation, the principal said, “OK, she can stay and finish high school, but she can’t do any extracurricular activities, and she can’t have a locker.” My grandfather took the deal, and my mother finished high school, though she wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage with her classmates to get her diploma. Determined to keep up with her education, she enrolled in night school, picking classes led by professors who would let her bring an infant to class. She would show up with two duffel bags—one full of textbooks, and one packed with diapers, bottles, and anything that would keep me interested and quiet for a few minutes.

    My dad’s name is Miguel. He adopted me when I was four years old. He was 16 when he came to the United States from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, shortly after Castro took over. My dad arrived in America alone. His parents felt he’d be safer here. His mom imagined America would be cold, so she made him a jacket sewn entirely out of cleaning cloths, the only material they had on hand. We still have that jacket; it hangs in my parents’ dining room. My dad spent two weeks at Camp Matecumbe, a refugee center in Florida, before being moved to a Catholic mission in Wilmington, Delaware. He was lucky to get to the mission, but even so, he didn’t speak English and didn’t have an easy path. What he did have was a lot of grit and determination. He received a scholarship to college in Albuquerque, which is where he met my mom. You get different gifts in life, and one of my great gifts is my mom and dad. They have been incredible role models for me and my siblings our entire lives.

    Click through for the answer (whether or not you got it correctly), read the whole thing, and be a little grateful for living in a country where stories like this are still possible.


  • Something to bring you down from that high, however: John McWhorter writes at Quillette on Our Oppressive Moment.

    As one of the signatories to the “Open Letter” in Harper’s magazine, I’ve been bemused by the objection that we are merely whiners—people with impregnable career success, flustered that social media is forcing us to experience unprecedented criticism, particularly in the wake of the Floyd protests. This represents a stark misunderstanding of why I and many others signed it. I am certainly not complaining about being criticized. As someone frequently described as “contrarian” on the fraught topic of race, I have been roasted for my views for over 20 years—it’s just that, when I started out, I received invective scrawled on paper folded into envelopes instead of typed into tweets. The sheer volume of criticism is greater, of course, but the last thing I would do is sign a letter protesting it. For writers of commentary on controversial subjects, the barrage keeps us on our toes. Haters can be ignored, but informed excoriation can help sharpen our arguments and ensure we remain acquainted with the views of the other side.

    The Harper’s letter is a declaration intended to resist the poisonous atmosphere suffocating those who don’t enjoy our platforms and profiles. We are not taking issue with critique, but with the idea that those who express certain views must not simply be criticized but have their epaulets torn off—demoted, shunned, and personally vilified. Earlier this month, hundreds of members of the Linguistics Society of America (LSA) signed their own open letter calling for eminent psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker to have his career award as a Linguistics Society of America Fellow revoked. This was not mere criticism of views the signatories found objectionable. It was not even just criticism of Pinker for expressing them (although it was certainly that). It was a demand for punishment that would also serve as an instructive example to others.

    John (I call him John) provides a number of examples of non-famous people who are also getting defenestrated for insufficient wokeness. I have to share my fave:

    The president and the board chairman of the Poetry Foundation resigned after 1800 members signed a protest letter condemning them because the statement that they had released in support of Black Lives Matter was not long or substantial enough.

    "Also, it rhymed. Poets don't do that any more."


  • Another depressing bit, from Christian Britschgi at Reason: Senate Republicans’ $1 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Bill Includes Billions for New Fighter Jets, Attack Helicopters, and Missiles.

    Part of the Senate Republicans' relief package—collectively known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act—is a $306 billion appropriations bill authored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R–Ala.). That legislation includes close to $30 billion in defense spending, with a good chunk of that money allocated to purchasing new aircraft, ships, and missiles.

    "I believe we need to act with a sense of urgency. The American people are fighters, but the accumulated strain of this pandemic is a serious burden on folks," said Shelby, who chairs the Senate's Appropriations Committee, in a press release. "With the additional resources this legislation provides, I believe we can give them greater confidence that we are getting our arms around this virus."

    Speaking of arms, Shelby's bill includes $283 million for the Army through the end of 2022 "to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally" on the condition that money be spent on acquiring AH–64 Apache attack helicopters made by Boeing.

    How sad would I be if Republicans lost control of the Senate? On a 0-to-10 scale, where 10 is "Suicidal", I was at 4.2. This article knocked me down to about 3.5. Senator Shelby, you want to see if you can push that any lower?


  • And to finish off our festival of depression, we have Theodore Darlymple at Law & Liberty, wondering about A Tyranny of Health?.

    The dream of a society so perfect that no one will have to be good (as T.S. Eliot put it) is a beguiling one for intellectuals, perhaps because they think that they will be in charge of it, as a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “The Moral Determinants of Health” well illustrates.

    In this article, which has the merit of being clear and logical, no single instance of individual conduct is mentioned as being necessary for, or conducive, to health. In the healthy society envisaged by the author, who is a public health doctor in Massachusetts, no one will have to try to behave well—not drink or eat too much, refrain from smoking or taking drugs, not indulge in hazardous pastimes, take recommended but safe exercise and so forth—because everything will come as a matter of course to him. Living in a perfect society, he will behave perfectly. The author’s means of achieving these ends are entirely political, and wildly impractical examples of progressivism without practical wisdom—and as such, unremarkable.

    Darlymple is devastating on the JAMA article. It's author, unnamed by Darlymple, is Donald Berwick. It's not unlikely he will be in charge of Health Totalitarianism in a Biden Administration. He was Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Obama. He ran for MA Governor in 2014. His article contains a laundry list of progressive desires, all dreadful.

Remember the Night

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A pretty good comedy/romance/drama from 1939 with (as you can see from the box on the right) Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. Written by Preston Sturges. No, it's not the noir one where they plot to bump off her husband for the insurance money, and <spoiler>both end up dead</spoiler>. That's Double Indemnity. This is more lighthearted.

But Barb is still on the shady side of the law. The opening scene shows her lifting a fancy bracelet from a New York jewelry store, but getting nabbed when she tries to hock it. She goes to trial, and Fred is the ace prosecutor determined to put her behind bars. How determined? The trial is just before Christmas. He thinks the jury would be more likely to acquit, simply to avoid having to stick someone in jail before the holiday. So he wangles a delay until after Christmas.

Which still leaves Barb in jail, because she can't afford bail. Here's where Fred's heart of gold kicks in: he posts her bail. Which (due to misunderstandings and Barb's continuing lack of cash) means he is more or less stuck with her until court resumes in January.

And (it turns out) they're both from Indiana. Mishap-filled holiday road trip! And Barb winds up spending the holiday week with Fred's colorful downhome family and surrounded the warmhearted Indiana folks. And smooching ensues.

So what happens when they get back to New York? Will Fred throw the case so they can live happily ever after? Guess what, I've given away about 90% of the movie, and I probably should leave it there.

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands

Thinkers of the New Left

[Amazon Link]

Roger Scruton recently passed away, and I must have seen a reference to this work in one of the encomiums that sprouted as a result. For some reason, I looked at Portsmouth Public Library, and yes, it was there, so…

Not exactly what I was expecting, and not what I should have expected. This is very much a book I "read" in the sense that I looked at every page. Scruton was a philosopher, and this is a very high level discussion of the philosophy of various modern left-wing thinkers. It's an updated (2015) version of a book (Thinkers of the New Left) originally published in 1985. For the new version, he dumped a few thinkers, and added a few. But the result is the same: the thinkers examined all fail his rigorous analysis. Despite occasional praise for writing style, insight, and originality, leftist thought is largely a failed enterprise. Often lapsing into incoherence and nonsense. And indefensible apologies for left-wing regimes, before and (sometimes) after they've been revealed as massive engines of misery, terror, and death.

Here's the problem: to grasp Scruton's points in detail, you have to expend a lot of effort in cooperation, working with him in trying to dig out what the New Left folks are saying. But that's in parallel with Scruton pointing out that what they're saying is mostly hot garbage. So: a lot of work for not a lot of net payoff. There are probably some academics who could profit if this area is part of their life's work, but it ain't me, babe.

There are some bits I was able to appreciate, here and there. Scruton describes the reaction to the 1985 version of the book, and it shouldn't be any surprise that cancel culture was alive and well in academia back then: Scruton says the book's publication "was the beginning of the end for my university career". His original publisher was pressured into withdrawing the book from stores, and remaining copies "transferred to [his] garden shed."

Near the end, Scruton muses on the persistent popularity of leftist philosophy, despite its theoretical failures, and the resulting disasters whenever its political tentacles manage to latch onto power. And a worthwhile essay on why Scruton thinks conservative political philosophy deserves, but doesn't receive, more respect.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-29

  • A New York Times article gets an amused look from Jim Geraghty at National Review: Rich New Yorkers Roughing It in Their Second Homes.

    Whatever else you think of the New York Times newspaper, there’s a particular deliciousness to the newspaper’s insanely insular lifestyle coverage of the city’s wealthy, entitled, and self-absorbed. This weekend’s Real Estate section brought a fascinating and inadvertently hilarious in-depth portrait of the struggles of Manhattanites trying to ride out the pandemic from their second homes in the Hamptons, the luxurious communities on the eastern end of Long Island.

    While living full-time in places that usually get much less wear and tear, these homeowners share many of the same difficulties as anyone dealing with the coronavirus lockdown — working in communal spaces where their children now are present 24/7, discovering items in their homes that need updating, and then renovating a home while they are living in it. In addition, these homeowners must adjust to living in relatively unfamiliar towns, often far from friends, family, or creature comforts such as a favorite bagel shop or longtime barber.

    You may be sick, you may have buried a loved one, you may be laid off or have lost your business, you may have put off hip surgery, you may be facing eviction, your kids haven’t been to school since March and won’t be back anytime soon, and your governor may have killed your elderly relatives in nursing homes through reckless policies, but please, take a moment to think of the publicists and “boutique wealth-management company” executives who haven’t been to their favorite bagel joint in weeks! (The article features a cameo by the “director for cultural engagement at Everytown for Gun Safety.”)

    Snif! Obligatory Commie Radio (aka NHPR) story from April: Locals Bristle As Out-of-Towners Fleeing Virus Hunker Down In New Hampshire Homes. There's a pic of two Manhattanites strolling through Wolfeboro with their designer doggies, identified as Lauren Gaudette and Garrett Neff.

    Lauren and Garrett are actually semi-famous. For example, our Getty image du jour is of the attractive couple (unfortunately without pups). Garrett is a "model and swimwear designer" who keeps getting deemed a real-life Zoolander. (Lauren is identified as a "fashion executive" in the linked article.)

    Well, I hope they're well in Wolfeboro, and I hope the locals have stopped bristling.


  • [Amazon Link]
    I was reminded of the old Southside Johnny song, "All I Want is Everything" by the headline on a Reason article by Eric Boehm: Teachers Unions Want Wealth Taxes, Charter School Bans, and Medicaid-for-all Before Schools Can Reopen. Specifically, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA):

    That union represents more than 35,000 teachers in the nation's second-largest school district. Earlier this month, UTLA published a paper calling for schools to remain closed until the district could ensure adequate supplies of protective gear for teachers and students. UTLA also demanded the reconfiguring of classrooms to allow for social distancing.

    But that wasn't it. UTLA also stated that the pandemic requires an immediate moratorium on new charter schools in Los Angeles. How does that protect student or teacher safety? It doesn't, of course. If anything, the pandemic has revealed the necessity of additional educational options for parents and students.

    UTLA didn't stop there. It is also demanding things that the officials in charge of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) don't have the power to grant, such as the passage of Medicare-for-all, new state-level wealth taxes in California, and a federal bailout of the LAUSD—which is struggling to meet pension obligations for retired teachers and staff.*

    We'll give them points for chutzpah. One of the only possibly-good outcomes of the pandemic is a needed, and deserved, kick in the pants to the education system.


  • Randal O'Toole is an expert at casting a cold eye on passenger trains. His latest at Cato: Last Century's Transportation Ten Years from Now.

    With a presidential candidate known as Amtrak Joe, a House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee proposal to triple funding for intercity passenger trains, and a proposal before Congress to spend $205 billion on high‐​speed trains, it is likely that increased subsidies to Amtrak and faster trains will be promoted in the near future. That makes it worthwhile to look at how the last major push to spend money on passenger trains worked out.

    In 2009 and 2010, President Obama persuaded Congress to spend $10.1 billion on “high‐​speed intercity passenger rail” projects. Obama used other federal funds to bring this up to $11.5 billion, all of which was partially matched by at least $7 billion in state and local funding. After ten years, at least some of those projects must be working, right?

    Short answer: no, of course not.

    One bit of very local interest: $116 million was spent on the Downeaster line, which runs through (but doesn't stop in) my town of Rollinsford NH. Amtrak expanded service to Freeport (LL Bean!) and Brunswick Maine. An average of 127 daily passengers make use of those stops, so: slightly less than $1 million per daily passenger.

    And service? It went from 5 trains/day in 2009 to… 5 trains/day in 2019.

    The fastest Downeaster train averaged 46.4 miles/hr in 2009. And in 2019 that number was… 45.8 miles/hr.


  • Rob Pegoraro in Forbes looks at Trump’s Plan To Regulate Social Media.

    President Trump is still mad at Twitter, and now his Commerce Department has asked the Federal Communications Commission to write rules to stop social-media platforms from being mean to him.

    The 55-page proposal released Monday night by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a Commerce agency, would have the FCC rewrite Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

    Via Slashdot, where the submitter there says "Expect some of the people who denounced net-neutrality regulations to cheer it on."

    Rest easy, Slashdotter. There are a lot of us who think both Net Neutrality and Section 230 butchery are lousy ideas.


  • Bad news for me in the NYPost: People over 6 feet tall are more likely to contract coronavirus.

    People over six feet tall are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, the results of a new survey reveal.

    The global team of researchers, including experts from the University of Manchester and Open University, surveyed 2,000 people in the country, as well as the US, to determine whether their personal attributes, work and living practices might play a role in transmission, The Telegraph reported.

    "How's the air up there?"

    "Virusy!"

    I will resort to my confirmation-bias bag o' tricks, and point out that the researchers and some of the surveyed are Brits, so what did we fight that war for anyway, if not to ignore what those guys say?


  • And good news (via a question) from Michael Graham: Did A Judge Just Give Sununu A Third-Party Problem in November?

    A federal judge liberated the New Hampshire Libertarian Party (LPNH) from the state’s ballot access requirements Tuesday in a 50-page decision that overruled the Sununu administration’s attempts to keep the third-party’s candidates off the ballot.

    “The state’s attorney wasn’t particularly prepared for the case. He apparently thought we were bluffing,” LPNH spokesperson Richard Manzo told NHJournal. “The judge [wasn’t] happy to be hearing the case, either. I think he believed, as we did, this issue should have been resolved out of court.”

    Bad news for Governor Chris, but I'm happy that I'll have folks on the ballot that I'd be (marginally) happier to vote for.

Conviction

[Amazon Link]

This is another book off WSJ reviewer Tom Nolan's Best Mystery Books of 2019 list. Eight down, and… we'll get to those last two eventually, I'm sure.

The first-person narrator is Anna McDonald, Scottish wife and mother. Except not really "Anna". That's a name she adopted, because she's in hiding from a past life, sort of a DIY witness protection program. And she's having a bad day. A true-crime podcast she listens to concerns the sinking of the yacht Dana. Which contains a surprising revelation: an old acquaintance, Leon Parker, and many of his family perished in the sinking. And the person held responsible, and jailed, was probably framed.

Probably framed, that is, by Leon's fabulously wealthy wife, Gretchen Tiegler. Who (it turns out) is also a major reason Anna felt forced to adopt her new identity.

And did I mention that Anna's having a bad day? Yes: by coincidence, her husband also announces that he's dumping her, and running off on vacation with Anna's best friend Estelle. Bummer!

Eventually, Estelle's soon-to-be-ex husband, Fin Cohen, shows up on Anna's doorstep. He is a famous musician, and also anorexic. Anna decides to take off on her own investigation of the Dana's sinking. Sort of a Jessica Fletcher deal, if Tom Bosley accompanied her. There's a lot of travel, perilous situations, revelations about Anna's past life, and (eventually) a grisly murder.

It's a page-turner, but the plot is ludicrous, the protagonist isn't particularly likeable. (Although she's had some bad breaks, admittedly.)

Space Cadet

[Amazon Link]

Another Heinlein novel read! This one's from 1948. It was his second juvenile, after Rocket Ship Galileo. I hadn't read it in a very long time, and I was surprised by what I remembered. Almost nothing about the plot, but I did remember "pie with a fork". (I'm sorry, not gonna explain that, you'll have to read it yourself.)

It is set in an alternate future, and (as it turns out) an alternate universe, one in which Venus is inhabitable, and has intelligent native life. Interplanetary travel is common, and humans have presence on the inner planets, Ganymede, and the moon. And Space Patrol is a "peacekeeping" force, accomplished by its monopoly on atomic weaponry, to be dropped from orbit on any sufficiently troublesome provinces.

The protagonist is Matt Dodson, and we follow his Space Patrol career: applicant, lowly plebe, trainee, and, eventually, a participant in critical missions. Things wind up with a life-threatening rescue operation on Venus, where surprising things are revealed about the native culture.

Practically no women. At least not human women. Matt's mom (who's kind of a ditz) shows up on a few pages, and his girlfriend is talked about.

You can see faint premonitions of Starship Troopers, as the operations and structure of Space Patrol get explained didactically.

Sadly, the Clifford Geary illustrations I remember from my youthful reading aren't in the Kindle edition I bought.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-28

Ladies and gentlemen, the song stylings of Remy: NoMargaritasville.

On a related note, you might want to check out the WebMD page Am I a High-Functioning Alcoholic? Know the Signs.

Unfortunately, Sign One is:

Say you have a problem or joke about alcoholism

So no jokes about the other signs, friend. You don't have a "sense of humor"; you have a serious problem.

  • Unfortunately, National Review doesn't seem to be in the habit of bringing their magazine articles out from behind their paywall. So I don't know if you can read this article from Kevin D. Williamson either now or in the eventual future. But you should: ‘Hate’ & America's Political Chaos.

    I  live in a neighborhood full of very nice high-income white progressives, which means that I get to take in a great deal of literal virtue-signaling when I go for a walk. It is, as the yard signs inform us pedestrians, “No Place for Hate.”

    Perhaps you have seen the signs in your own neighborhood: “In this house, we believe: Black Lives Matter, No Human Is Illegal, Love Is Love, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, Science Is Real, Water Is Life, Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat To Justice Everywhere.” We have one of those signs every eleven houses or so in my neighborhood. “Love is love” — impossible to argue with that kind of cutting-edge thinking. (The Williamsons do not display any sign, but, if we did, it would read: “No Trespassing.”) Another sign features a red interdictory circle over the familiar tangerine-toned countenance of President Donald Trump and the slogan: “No Hate.”

    “Hate” is a word that, like “inappropriate” and “empathy,” has been worn out utterly. It is like the steps on one of those ancient temples in Italy that, having been ground down by so many tourists climbing up, can no longer be used to ascend. “Hate” has become just another pile of evocative but structurally useless semantic rubble.

    Well, I shouldn't copy the whole thing, but if you can't read it online, try to find a hard copy.

    Those yard signs aren't just virtue signalling; they're virtue sirens. Look how good we are! How better than our signless neighbors.

    As a steadfast technically-still-a-Lutheran, I suggest Matthew 6:1-4.


  • I missed blogging John McWhorter's excellent Reason essay on the 1619 Project from back in January, but its relevance has ratcheted up since then: The 1619 Project Depicts an America Tainted by Original Sin. Problems?

    For one, note the suspension of disbelief we are expected to maintain. Supposedly the Founding Fathers were trying to protect slavery, despite never actually making such a goal clear for the historical record, and at a time when there would have been no shame in doing so. What are the chances that this supposed revelation would have slept undiscovered until now, when for almost 50 years, humanities academics of all colors have been committed to their socks to unearthing racism in the American fabric? Can we really believe that a group of journalists writing for the Times has unboxed such a key historical revelation from reading around, that no one else of any color has chosen to trumpet in the mainstream media for decades?

    Hogwash, clearly. And yet it will be considered the height of insolence to address the decisive historical observations of historians like Wilentz. Here and only here, serious academic chops don't matter. We are to think of a broader goal—endlessly and liturgically attesting to the racism that black people have suffered from—as licensing a fantastical way of thinking. People like Wilentz will be classified as nattering nuisances who just don't "get it," callously prizing the literal over what is "deeper," as if they were requiring that someone today walk on water before subscribing to Christianity. That is, people who insist on the truth will be classified as blasphemers.

    At the University Near Here, the 1619 Project (its podcast version) is recommended as one of its Racial Justice Resources; the NYT's 1619 website is pushed by the business school's "Community, Diversity and Inclusion Resources" page. Exercise for the reader: try to find any dissent from the Offical Line.


  • So coming up this week is some political theater between successful businessmen vs. a bunch of politicians who have never run anything except their mouths. (I'd like to credit that line to its originator, but Google is failing me.) Anyway, Mr. Amazon will be one of the victims, and Jessica Melugin takes to the CEI pages to preview: Congress is Dragging Jeff Bezos to the Hill to Explain a Routine Business Strategy.

    Alongside his fellow Big Tech CEOs, Jeff Bezos will appear before the House Judiciary Committee next Monday to testify about Amazon Marketplace’s business practices with its third-party sellers. The occasion will make for entertaining political theater, but the expected line of inquiry is mostly without merit.

    Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google, and Tim Cook of Apple have all testified before Congress many times, but this will mark the first time that Bezos will appear before the legislative body. In February, House antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline of Rhode Island told CNBC, “As I think about this marketplace, it’s pretty clear to me that it’s not functioning properly, that there’s not robust competition there.” More specifically, the committee is interested in allegations that the online retail giant uses data about its third-party sellers to compete against them with its own in-house brand.

    Ms. Melugin notes that it's a sure bet that your local big-box store or supermarket chain does exactly the same thing in deciding which "house" brands to develop and stock in competition with Heinz, Del Monte, Colgate-Palmolive, …


Last Modified 2020-07-28 3:04 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-07-27

  • I can't believe this ABC News tweet has not been removed and apologies issued. Yet:

    ABC News, 1941: "Japanese airmen set fire to a Hawaiian naval base after a peaceful military exercise intensified."

    (I'm sure someone made that joke already.)

    I feel sorry for anyone who thinks ABC News is in the news business. They are in the Newspeak business.


  • At the WSJ, Andy Kessler looks forward to Jeff, Tim, Sundar, and Mark showing up before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee. And he thinks Tech CEOs Deserve an Apology.

    He might be right, but that's not a likely outcome.

    Tech companies are being beaten up for their size and success. That’s just envy. Eventually competition—especially from each other—and the next wave of cool technology will topple them.

    Listen closely and you may hear rumblings of the antitrust “theory of competitive harm.” That theory abandons any hard proof of consumer harm and holds, for example, that Facebook can be broken up merely because its purchase of Instagram prevented a competitor from emerging. Even squishier is the “New Brandeis School” and, get this, “Hipster Antitrust,” which say the purpose of antitrust is to help solve inequality and other social ills. That sounds like hammering the table, not facts. Meanwhile, I for one am not going to stand here . . .

    We looked at an example of "Hipster Antitrust" in Wired a couple days ago.


  • Michael Huemer wonders: What’s Destroying Our Culture?.

    I think the internet and social media have something to do with it. I think the democratization of information is endangering actual democracy.

    Let’s back up for a second and talk about the masses and the elites in a democratic society. Naively, you might be tempted to assume that the masses love democracy, since it lets “the people rule”, and the people, surely, want to rule. You might assume, then, that the elites are the main threat to democracy. Maybe rich business and political leaders, or perhaps intellectual elites, are conspiring behind the scenes to figure out how to undermine democracy in order to give themselves control. Then they would implement policies for their own benefit, at the expense of the masses. Muhahaha.

    That’s what undergraduates are inclined to think, from the start of their thinking about politics. Many still think that decades later. It is, however, pretty much the exact opposite of reality.

    This would explain a lot. Especially, it explains why the first move elites take in trying to sway public opinion is to scare the crap out of people instead of appealing to reason and facts. Go with what works.


  • And if you can't scare the crap out of people, you can always try guilt-tripping them. At Reason, Matt Welch provides an example: The Media Wants To Guilt-Trip Parents Over School ‘Pods’.

    Our kids are long since out of school, at least not on the receiving end. So I am out of the loop, and unaware of "pods": parent-organized teaching pools. Very Hayekian! And so the New York Times

    "Given that pods can be pricey, complicated to organize and self-selecting," cautions the paper's Melinda Wenner Moyer in an explainer this week, "they are likely to be most popular among families of privilege, experts say, and may worsen educational inequality."

    Yesterday, the Gray Lady rolled out a new education podcast with the sardonic title of "Nice White Parents," whose thesis is that, "If you want to understand what's wrong with our public education system, you have to look at what is arguably the most powerful force in our schools: White parents."

    And on the Opinion page, educator Clara Totenberg Green makes it even more explicit: "At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted a national reckoning with white supremacy, white parents are again ignoring racial and class inequality when it comes to educating their children," she writes. "As a result, they are actively replicating the systems that many of them say they want to dismantle."

    It has long been an Official Pun Salad Crackpot Reform Measure to abolish compulsory attendance laws. Let's not let this crisis go to waste!

    Also see the comment from my friend Skip at Granite Grok: White Parents are the problem with Education.


  • We missed it, but Jerry Coyne did not: Happy Birthday, Rosalind Franklin!.

    The chemist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin was born 100 years ago today. Although she was never in the public eye in her lifetime, in the last quarter century she has become a figure of renown, with her name attached to a university, a medical school, several buildings and student dorms, lecture theatres, as well as various prestigious medals and fellowships and – most recently – a future Mars Rover and a commemorative UK coin. She died in London, of ovarian cancer, on 16 April 1958.

    Jerry's article is full of interesting history revolving around her work with DNA structure. Correcting the popular historical record on some points.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rings for an unfond farewell from my local grocery store chain, Hannaford, as chronicled by the Union Leader editorialist: Goodbye tobacco.

    The “Live Free or Die” state has one less option for those looking to hasten the die part of that motto.

    Hannaford supermarkets has announced they will be phasing out tobacco sales across their chain of grocery stores. This is sad news for Granite State smokers that want to pick up 20 cigarettes to go with their six beers, twelves [sic] eggs, ten hot dogs, and eight hot dog buns.

    I don't care about the tobacco, but the UL editorialist is very uninformed about the current thinking on eggs.


Last Modified 2020-07-28 9:04 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2020-07-26 Update

[Amazon Link]

Whoa, huge news: Donald Trump finally reversed his slide with the betting markets this week, shaving a net 0.3 percentage points off his disadvantage. Why, at this rate, he'll be back to even-money odds in (um…) 220 days or so!

Meanwhile, as I type, the election is exactly 100 days away.

But, hey: Trump also managed to expand his lead in phony hits, adding on another 580K over the week. Good job, there, Donald.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
7/19
Phony
Results
Change
Since
7/19
Donald Trump 37.0% +0.2% 2,390,000 +580,000
Joe Biden 59.5% -0.1% 589,000 +83,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week, the version available to the unwashed masses is entitled Everyone’s (Kinda) a Rebel. But that doesn't matter right now, because his thoughts are on something else. Specifically, Jonah's college roomie's proud boast about his favorite potted meat product: it "meets the minimum standards for human consumption set by the FDA!”

    This came to mind last Sunday when I watched the Chris Wallace interview with President Trump. As I was among the first to note, the buried lede in that interview was the fact that the president of the United States of America claimed that he found a test for dementia to be “very, very, hard.”

    Ever since he took the test, he’s been bragging that he “aced” the testing equivalent of potted meat. As I wrote earlier this week, this is like bragging about nailing a sobriety test while sober. But since I always get dinged for recycling lines here, it’s also like expecting your wife to be super excited by the “fantastic news” that you tested negative for the whole battery of sexually transmitted diseases. “I didn’t even have crabs! Can you believe it? The doctors have never seen anything like it.”

    In case you want to check it out, the standard Montreal Cognitive Assessment test is right here. I think I did OK, but (yeah) I wouldn't brag about it.


  • Megan McArdle makes (I think) an insightful point about Trump: his Jedi Mind Tricks just ain't workin' no more. After relating the tale of a real estate agent who tried to pass off a basement apartment as having "such high ceilings"-when they were actually 74 inches from the floor:

    This, of course, has been brought to mind by our real estate promoter in chief. Other politicians are inveterate shaders of the truth, but President Trump frequently dispenses with it entirely and invents something more to his liking — even when there is undeniable evidence to the contrary, such as aerial photographs showing that the crowd at his inauguration did not, in fact, stretch “all the way back to the Washington Monument.”

    By now, however, his whoppers are getting too big to be believed, even by people who really want to.

    “You will never hear this on the Fake News concerning the China Virus,” he tweeted on Tuesday, “but by comparison to most other countries, who are suffering greatly, we are doing very well — and we have done things that few other countries could have done!”

    This is false. Indubitably, indisputably false.

    I only think that Megan errs in thinking many people ever believed Trump's whoppers. Instead, they (optionally) rolled their eyes and put up with them.

    There are still some of those folks. But I think mostly people are … well, see our Amazon Product du Jour.

    Yes, Biden is a world-class bullshitter as well. But, by and large, people are OK with different bullshit. Just tired of Trump's.


  • Back to Jonah, who wonders: Is It Really Wise for Trump to Question Biden's Mental Fitness?.

    […] the whole strategy of attacking Biden as mentally incompetent is risky. Forget that such tactics were once considered beyond the pale. And put aside the entirely reasonable conclusion that Biden does indeed show his age quite often—and that he’s always had a propensity to say weird things. The Trump campaign is now betting his re-election’s already slim chances on Biden proving Trump’s diagnosis is right.

    One of the central tasks of campaigning, and politics generally, is managing expectations. Beating expectations in a primary makes you a winner. Falling short has the opposite effect. For instance, Lyndon B. Johnson won the 1968 New Hampshire primary by seven points but fell so far below expectations that he withdrew from the race. Trump has benefited from early warnings that the U.S. could see millions of deaths from COVID-19, so the current—and rising—death toll of “only” 143,000 beats expectations.

    As of now, all Biden has to do to beat the expectations laid out by Trump is prove he knows he’s alive—a very light lift. In normal times, presidential campaigns work hard to set expectations for the opponent unreasonably high.

    I still want to see the results of a battery of mental tests applied (fairly, preferably double-blind) to both candidates. Including civics: I'm not sure either of them have a good grasp on the limits and extents of the Executive Branch.


  • But even under the watchful eyes of his handlers, Joe manages to step in it: 'People' don't distinguish between Chinese and other Asians.

    The average American doesn’t distinguish between Chinese people and other Asians, Joe Biden claimed, in an attempt to criticize President Trump for blaming China for the coronavirus outbreak.

    “Look what he’s doing now. He’s blaming everything on China. He’s blaming everything on the Chinese,” the former vice president said during a virtual campaign event Wednesday with the Service Employees International Union.

    “People don’t make a distinction, as you well know, from a South Korean and someone from Beijing,” he added. “They make no distinction, it’s Asian. And he’s using it as a wedge.”

    I suppose, in Joe's mind, it made sense to equate "people" with "dumb white people". I'm not sure what he thinks Trump had to gain in whipping up anti-Asian bigotry.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-25

  • We open with a Tweet du Jour.

    An oldie, apparently from a 2014 column. The tweeter "@ThomasSowell" is not the guy himself, just someone who posts quotes. Which is fine.


  • The WSJ editorialists push back on wannabe cancel culture from within the paper: A Note to Readers.

    We’ve been gratified this week by the outpouring of support from readers after some 280 of our Wall Street Journal colleagues signed (and someone leaked) a letter to our publisher criticizing the opinion pages. But the support has often been mixed with concern that perhaps the letter will cause us to change our principles and content. On that point, reassurance is in order.

    In the spirit of collegiality, we won’t respond in kind to the letter signers. Their anxieties aren’t our responsibility in any case. The signers report to the News editors or other parts of the business, and the News and Opinion departments operate with separate staffs and editors. Both report to Publisher Almar Latour. This separation allows us to pursue stories and inform readers with independent judgment.

    Glad to see some vertebrate behavior from a paper to which I subscribe. My local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, has pretty much become an uncritical cheerleader for wokeness and the Democratic Party.


  • At Wired, Roger McNamee offers his opinion on Big Tech’s Antitrust Hearing? They’re (Almost) All Guilty. Warning: the article is mostly garbage.

    IN THE COMING days, the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee will bring the CEOs of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple to Washington and ask them about their anticompetitive business practices. Except for Apple, there’s only one answer: We are guilty.

    Though anticompetitive practices were prohibited more than a century ago, deregulation has prevailed since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. Believing the market would always allocate resources optimally, the federal government stopped playing its traditional role as capitalism’s umpire. The Reagan Revolution unleashed economic growth that led to a long period of prosperity and a concentration of economic power. Over the past 20 years, the rich got much richer, while half of the country struggled with static incomes. Nowhere is this lawlessness more rampant today than among large tech companies, who’ve used their power to crush competitors, suppliers, business partners, and even customers.

    We've invoked the "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" query in the past. But Roger's bio allows us to point out that just because you're rich doesn't mean you're smart. His excuses for deploying the antitrust hammer on Google, Facebook, and Amazon are vague and incoherent. Something to do with (for example) "an inability to increase personal protective equipment manufacturing and testing capacity." Google and Facebook "undermine democracy and public health." Etc. Yeah, I doubt that.

    But antitrust might not be enough! Roger also demands "laws that require tech companies to prove that new products are safe and free from bias prior to shipment, that reduce incentives to algorithmically amplify targeted harassment, disinformation, and conspiracy theories, and limit the ability of corporations to gather and exploit personal data."

    Because Uncle Stupid knows how to do that.


  • Just a relevant factoid from Arnold Kling: The S&P 4.

    Just Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google account for 21% of the [S&P 500] index.

    Obviously they must be destroyed. Nothing but good things will happen from blowing up 21% of the S&P 500.


  • Greg Mankiw has a welcome dose of sanity to the increasingly woke NYT: C.E.O.s Are Qualified to Make Profits, Not Lead Society.

    If you open any standard economics textbook, such as one of mine, you will be told that a firm’s objective is to maximize profit. That goal is sometimes described as maximizing shareholder value, which is roughly the same thing because the value of a firm’s shares depends on its current and future profitability.

    Given the vast range of economic and political problems the world faces, this approach is often said to be too narrow. And in a recent interview, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, joined in the criticism.

    “It’s way past time we put an end to the era of shareholder capitalism, the idea the only responsibility a corporation has is with shareholders,” he said. “That’s simply not true. It’s an absolute farce. They have a responsibility to their workers, their community, to their country.”

    Prof Mankiw demonstrates that this noble-sounding concept is full of contradiction. Stripped of euphemism, it would simply be a power grab by the state.

    Note: Prof Mankiw plans to vote for Biden anyway.


  • A useful reminder from Josiah Bartlett: Occupational licensing reduces economic mobility.

    Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill this week to make permanent the emergency changes expanding telemedicine services. The restrictions on telemedicine were not primarily to protect patients. They were to protect medical providers from competition. When the state makes it illegal to see a Boston doctor via video, patients have to see their local physicians.

    Prohibitions on the practice of telemedicine are an extension of occupational licensing laws. Everyone knows you have to have a state medical license to practice medicine. But licensing laws also have prevented people from consulting online with doctors who are licensed in other states, even though technology makes this easy.

    The percentage of occupations that require a state license has exploded, going from about 5% in the early 1950s to about 20% today. Economists have suspected that the growth in state occupational licensing laws has contributed to the decline in American mobility. If you’re licensed in one state, moving to another state can mean starting the licensing process all over again, as many states don’t recognize other state licenses.

    An additional point for us Granite State Geezers: the state would have lost population if not for people moving in from elsewhere. That might cheer up some Malthusians, but it's really not great. Dialing down on occupational licensure would encourage ("at the margin") people to come here and work without worrying overmuch about getting approved by the state to practice their profession.


Last Modified 2020-07-26 6:49 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-07-24

[Amazon Link]

  • Our Google News Alert LFOD item is up front today, and it's an editorial from The Sun, based in Old Blighty. And they … sound just like us: We're not against face masks but we need to know when we can chuck them away.

    The Sun is not against masks. Indeed we backed them months ago. It seemed obvious to us they must have some preventative effect.

    But that was with daily deaths at 1,000 and new infections at 5,000. Both have fallen by 90 per cent, yet NOW we are ordered to cover up in shops or be fined.

    We will not join the “live free or die” brigade who consider their refusal to wear one an act of Mandela-like civil rights heroism. It is a small, temporary price for the return of greater normality.

    But we do ask this of Boris Johnson: When can we chuck them away again? How low must infections and deaths fall?

    You need a firm exit plan, PM.

    It's nice to know folks in other countries are wondering about "temporary" regulations and expansions of state power that turn out to be not that temporary.

    But in the meantime, our Amazon product du jour is guaranteed to irk a large fraction of your neighbors. (Or maybe not, depending on where you live.)

    [Amazon Link]
    The masks feature an "optional carbon filter slot." But "(Carbon Filter Not Included)".

    Which raises a question: how long before authorities require carbon filters on your mandatory face masks?

    Which raises another question: how would they check for that?

    What can you get away with in mandatory mask zones, anyway? (For example, at right?)


  • At National Review Kevin D. Williamson discusses a problem and its cause: American Medical Community Credibility Problem: Self-Politicization Decreases Public Trust.

    Doctors: “The government needs extraordinary emergency powers to deal with public-health crises.”

    People: “Okay, so what about—”

    Doctors: “Also, we have to gut the Bill of Rights, because gun violence is a public-health crisis.”

    People: “. . .”

    Doctors: “Also, we need to forcibly sterilize poor people, because overpopulation is a public-health crisis.”

    There are a lot of people making a lot of bad decisions in regard to COVID-19. I wish they would make better decisions. But if some people do not seem to believe that they are getting a straight answer from the medical community about the pandemic, it may be because they remember not having got a straight answer from the medical community about gun rights, climate change, population control, abortion, and much else. If some people believe that the doctors and their organizations are playing politics with the pandemic, it may be because they remember the doctors and their organizations playing politics with a lot of other issues before.

    Short column, so KDW doesn't manage to mention the (um…) conflicting advice from public health experts who gave explicit thumbs up to mass racial protests, after emitting dire warnings for other crowd scenarios. After all, 'Racism Is A Pandemic Too'.


  • Veronique de Rugy looks at The Economics of Cancel Culture.

    A wave of hasty firings is sweeping across the country, driven by demands from what some call the "cancel culture." The New York Times editorial page editor James Bennett ran an op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) that displeased the paper's readers and some colleagues, so he lost his job. The chief curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gary Garrels, lost his job, too, after he was accused of being a racist for saying he would still collect art from white men. But the list of those who lost their jobs is much longer, and the rationale is sometimes as stunningly weak as someone liking the wrong tweet.

    As a result, fear has gripped many workers: Any day, any worker can be fired for simply angering a Twitter mob. Meanwhile, employers are left wondering how they should react when one of their employees becomes a target.

    VdR's advice is pretty simple: don't act in haste, sleep on it, give passions time to cool.

    You know, exactly what people aren't doing.


  • At a site titled Liberty Unyielding, Hans Bader says 'Anti-racism' is racism in disguise.

    America’s colleges, media, and cultural institutions are being swept by the ideology of “anti-racism.” It openly advocates racial discrimination against white people, and promotes bigoted, lower expectations for black people.

    “Rationality” and “hard work” are vestiges of racism, declared the “anti-racism” web site of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It claimed that virtues like “hard work,” “self-reliance,” being “polite,” and being on time are all a product of the “white dominant culture.” So, too, are normal grammar, the scientific method, and its emphasis on “objective, rational linear thinking,” according to a chart the Smithsonian posted.

    The ‘anti-racism’ sweeping institutions still ends up rendering black people as somehow different, other, unable to meet even basic standards,” notes Thomas Chatterton Williams, a black writer for the New York Times magazine and Harpers. He points to a recent set of “anti-racist” directives from the English Department at Rutgers University, which deemphasize grammar rules that conflict with black slang.

    As said before: we need a word to describe "prejudice against people because of their race". If the definition of "racism" is taken away to mean something else, what word will replace it?


  • Tom Maguire looks with dread on a letter signed by "a group of large investors", demanding that the Federal Reserve and the SEC “explicitly integrate climate change across your mandates.” Or, more precisely, use their regulatory power to force companies to bend the knee to the climate hysterics. In order to achieve goals that the legislative branch won't pass laws to do. Tom foresees death by regulation.

    The letter was signed by some of the largest pension funds in the country, including the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS, which manages $246 billion; the New York City Comptroller’s Office, which oversees pension funds worth $206 billion; and the New York State Comptroller’s Office, which manages the state’s $211 billion retirement fund.

    Uh huh, NY and California? I don't think politics has anything ta all to do with this. Next week we can read virtually the same letter. Replace "climate change" with "social justice", change the risks to include protests, riots and consumer boycotts, et voila - we need more disclosure on what companies are doing to advance racial and gender equality.

    I'm kind of scared to look at whether anyone at my investment firm signed on. Hope not.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-23

Crowley!

  • At a new-to-me site, UnHerd, John Gray notes the new movie Mr. Jones, and deems it A cautionary tale for today's 'woke' movement. The movie's eponymous hero, Gareth Jones, is an honest journalist reporting on the horrors of Stalinist Russia. (It's pretty grim by all accounts, but it's on my Netflix queue.) Jones stands in contrast to woke-for-the-era Walter Duranty of the New York Times. Some trivia:

    Born in 1884, Duranty had become a disciple of Aleister Crowley in 1913, joining with the self-appointed Satanist messiah in Paris in opium consumption and “sex magic”. Crowley’s motto was “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, and Duranty seemed to have followed this immoralist maxim throughout all of his life. For the elite of Übermenschen — to which the British-born, Cambridge-educated journalist imagined he belonged — morality was a fetter to be cast off.  Anything was permitted, truth was a fiction and a superior few were entitled to live “beyond good and evil”. When Duranty described Bolshevism as a ruthless creed he may have been praising, not condemning it.

    Duranty’s career was based on this philosophy. Freedom from ethical restraint, he believed, guaranteed success. In the end, however, his philosophy failed him. After FDR’s death in April 1945 Duranty found himself neglected and forgotten: during the Cold War, his skills in white-washing Soviet totalitarianism were no longer in demand. Like Crowley, whose last words when he was dying in a Hastings boarding house in 1947 were reported to have been “I am perplexed,” Duranty seems to have been baffled by his fall from grace. He died practically penniless in Orlando, Florida ten years later.

    Duranty may have been penniless, but (hey) he was in Orlando, and lived to be 81.

    Gareth Jones, on the other hand, was kidnapped and murdered in China one day short of his 30th birthday, perhaps thanks to Stalin's NKVD.

    And today's eye candy is of Aleister Crowley, because I had his picture lying around.

    I recently reread Matt Welch's essay from last month. I blogged it at the time, but it's only gotten more pertinent and insightful over the past few weeks. It's a 9.8 on the Pun Salad RTWTmeter: Journalists Abandoning ‘Objectivity’ for ‘Moral Clarity’ Really Just Want To Call People Immoral. And it's a useful companion to Gray's article.


  • Jonah Goldberg takes to his syndicated gig to observe: This 'anti-racism education' sure looks awfully racist.

    We often hear that what this country needs is an honest conversation about race. Here’s a whole lot of “honesty” for you, from an unexpected place:

    Black people are less likely than white people to be self-reliant. Black people are less likely to emphasize “rational linear” and “quantitative” thinking. They are less likely to think that “hard work is the key to success.” They believe in punctuality less, and instant gratification more, than whites do. Black people aren’t as likely to believe in a Christian God and more inclined to be tolerant of pagan or polytheistic religions.

    Given that we are living in the age of cancel culture, I’d better explain what I’m doing lest anyone think I believe this nonsense.

    All of this stuff — the bigotry, the stereotypes and the outright falsehoods — isn’t my view. Nor did I get it from some white supremacist Web site. Nope, it comes from a graphic sourced and linked to by the ­National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

    The graphic has been taken down from the (Smithsonian) museum site. I've seen it alleged that it still maintains a link to the original academic site that contains the original, uh, claims. But I can't find that now.


  • Speaking of authoritative garbage, see Brian Patrick Eha at City Journal: The Media and the Virus. Looking at the World Health Organization (the WHO, not to be confused with Pete and Roger):

    On April 18, 40 days after Italy became the first Western country to go into lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, found solace amid the worsening pandemic in the words of Jennifer Lopez. “What I know is how much we need each other,” he tweeted, attributing the words to the star of such pop hits as “Booty.” Then, not content with quoting (as Emerson would have it) “some saint or sage,” he imparted to his 1 million followers a few exhortations of his own. “No to hate,” he said. “No to stigma. No to divisions. Yes to unity. Yes to solidarity.”

    Anyone surprised by this rhetoric from Tedros (as he is known) hadn’t been paying attention. Stigma, especially, was the bête noire of the leader of the WHO, which for weeks in late 2019 and early 2020 was all but asleep at the wheel as the virus spread around the globe. More than once since the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, Tedros had taken it upon himself to admonish the masses not to disparage the Chinese. “It’s so painful to see the level of stigma we are observing,” he declared in early March. “Stigma, to be honest, is more dangerous than the virus itself.” Two months later, a quarter of a million people would be dead, though not of stigma.

    Eha is pretty damning about the WHO (and also the early media reports). Good supplementary (and surprising) reading at the American Council on Science and Health: Who Funds the WHO?.

    In an apparent tie, the chief funders are the UK, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, followed by Germany and the US. But there are a few other surprises on the list, including three members of Big Pharma, the National Philanthropic Trust (based in the US) and the Rotary. Japan and the EU, through their executive arm, the European Commission round out the countries making significant donations. Member states cover less than half of the WHOs expenses. 

    Bill and Melinda's money appears to go mainly toward polio eradication, a worthy goal.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert brought us an article by Daniel Wagner at the pretentiously-named "International Policy Digest": Free to be Dumb and Complacent. Daniel's amusing tale of his failed attempt to convert an unbeliever in the Church of Maskitude:
    Not long ago I was in Whole Foods, in the produce section where foods are not packaged, and a perfectly healthy-looking woman in her 30s was the only one not wearing a mask. No one said a thing until I approached her and said she needed to wear a mask and that it had been the law in Connecticut since April. I was told to mind my own business. It is my business, of course, and everyone else’s business in that store, yet no one said or did a thing, as she continued to breathe all over the produce. I even went to store management and said something. They had to let her in because she said she had an underlying medical condition that prevented her from wearing a mask. It just so happens that the law in Connecticut allows for that exception, but no doctor’s note is required. That is just dumb. [Excerpt]

    Breathing! All over the produce! Without a doctor's note!

    But LFOD eventually shows up, because Daniel is a True Believer in MANDATORY, ENFORCED, NATIONWIDE, restrictions.

    America is capable of doing all this but the politicization of the virus and silly interpretations of what freedom of action means under the U.S. Constitution have prevented us from following their examples. Yes, you are free to take your own health and life into your own hands by being stupid and selfish, but you are not free to do the same with someone else’s health and life. And that is what the “live free or die” movement and conspiracy theory believers among us fail to acknowledge.

    I think Daniel's unhinged Karenism speaks for itself: This is much less about actual "health and life" issues than it is about meek submission to authority.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-22

[Amazon Link]
Our Amazon product du jour is a book by Symone D. Sanders, who "currently serves as senior advisor for former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign." Our future, in other words.

  • Speaking of which, the online alumni magazine emitted by the University Near Here features a recent "webinar" by Kate Slater. Kate is identified as:

    Associate Director, Institute for Recruitment of Teachers
    Lecturer, “Teaching Race”, University of New Hampshire
    White Anti-Racist Scholar and Educator

    There's a picture of Kate at the link, but I guess it's a thing now to explicitly mention your racial self-identification up front. Just so there's no doubt. There's also a quote from Angela Y. Davis. Really? (I recommend David Harsany's recent article if you need reminders of Davis's awfulness.)

    Kate's webinar was "4 Steps to Begin An Anti-Racist Education". And, sorry, you missed it. But there's a link to an article she wrote that appears on the website of "Today", NBC's morning network TV show: 5 ways to support your black colleagues right now. (Kate apparently goes for enumerating things.) I'll just snip the title headings for each:

    1. Do not make it about your own feelings.
    2. Recognize when you’re "virtue signaling."
    3. Listen.
    4. Reschedule meetings and calls and only keep what is absolutely essential on the calendar.
    5. Take the time to educate yourself.

    Allow me to annotate/translate:

    1. Shut up about your feelings.
    2. Shut up about how good you think you are.
    3. Seriously, just shut up.
    4. Don't expect black people to attend your stupid Zoom meetings.
    5. And educate your own damn self.

    And yes, Kate recommends Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility, which Matt Taibbi speculated "might be the dumbest book ever written. It makes The Art of the Deal read like Anna Karenina."

    But that's what UNH is pushing these days.


  • Mark J. Perry has The best sentence [he] read today….. It's from an essay at the Persuasion website by Emily Yoffe, A Taxonomy of Fear:

    Institutions that are supposed to be guardians of free expression—academia and journalism in particular—are becoming enforcers of conformity.

    Yes. See item above. Mark's comment:

    I’ve pointed out many times that while academia pledges a theoretical commitment to “diversity, equity and inclusion” they frequently practice in reality the exact opposite — “uniformity, inequity, and exclusion,” e.g., when they require “diversity statements” that are in fact “uniformity statements.”

    It would take a pretty brave person to speak in dissent from that orthodoxy.


  • An interesting take from Kevin D. Williamson in the NYPost: For left-wing purists, moderates are the true enemy. Specifically, Bari Weiss, late of the New York Times:

    Weiss was employed at the Times as a politically independent and curious editor, not as a conservative commentator. You can be a pretty happy conservative in the Times’ splendid conservative ghetto — a conservative under quarantine, gently offering the conservative take of the day, wearing a sandwich board reading “Danger: conservative.”

    What made Weiss indigestible to the Times wasn’t vicious right-wingery but the fact that she was not there as a member of the Times’ stable of house conservatives. Nobody is shocked to see animals at the zoo, as long as they stay in their cages.

    Maybe Bari could be replaced by Matt Taibbi…


  • On the continuing (sometimes literal) dumpster fire in Portland, Oregon, Jacob Sullum takes the anti-Trump side at Reason: Trump Deploys Lawlessness Against Lawlessness.

    Donald Trump, whose 2016 presidential campaign was consciously modeled after Richard Nixon's 1968 run, seems to think he can win re-election by emulating his predecessor's appeal to a "silent majority" disgusted by raucous anti-war protests. Trump is offering voters a choice between his firm hand and the pusillanimity of "liberal Democrats" who let "violent anarchists" run wild in the streets.

    Notwithstanding Trump's pose as "your president of law and order," his heavy-handed reaction to the protests triggered by George Floyd's death represents neither. In response to largely peaceful demonstrations against police brutality that have been punctuated by criminal behavior, he has deployed his own brand of lawlessness, including arbitrary arrests and the disproportionate, indiscriminate use of force.

    Fine, I get that. But for the other side…


  • Let's go to David Harsanyi at National Review, who points out (accurately) that Mayors Who Surrender Their Cities to ‘Protesters’ Are Endorsing Lawlessness.

    When a few hundred angry Tiki-Torch Nazis marched in Charlottesville, you would have thought the RNC had deployed the Wehrmacht. Those who led the riot were even asked to opine on CNN. On the other hand, left-wing rioters — the people Chris Cuomo and other journalists compared to GIs landing on Normandy — are immediately transformed into apolitical actors, rogue “anarchists,” as soon as any violence starts.

    Who knows? Perhaps the majority of citizens and businesses in Portland, Seattle, and Denver want their elected officials to let Antifa act with impunity. Or maybe some of those citizens and businesses will begin fleeing those cities. Whatever the case, it’s a local concern.

    So to summarize: the MSM is garbage, the "peaceful protestors" are in fact lawless rioters, the local politicans are spineless, and Trump's urge to "do something" is making things worse.


  • I haven't done an LFOD Google News alert for awhile. Because of masks. It seems that every opinion writer or LTE crank invokes LFOD either in favor or against.

    But Bob Joseph Jr.'s recent LTE to the Laconia Daily Sun kind of takes the cake: Refusing to wear a face mask is akin to attempted murder.

    Governor Sununu needs to stop advocating this business of "Live Free or Die," as current conditions warrant our using the face masks. Face masks ensure our freedoms, but those who either refuse to wear them lead our path to die. Many immune compromised individuals, such as this writer with multiple myeloma, can have decent quality of life. Sununu's actions or lack of, is both irresponsible and reprehensible; which in turn exposes all of us to the virus in the long run.

    It is important to that [sic] those who continue refusing to wear these masks need to understand, these actions are akin to being "attempted murder" because that is just what it is. This is a lack of respect for all of us who are trying to mitigate this medical crisis. It is not socialism, but it is a social responsibility to wear them.

    Let's just shoot those attempted murderers! Totally justifiable homicide!

    For the record [as I type], Belknap County NH has had 97 total cases [1 out of 632 residents] and 4 deaths [1 out of 15,326 residents]. Which makes it slightly safer than my own county (Strafford NH): 1 case per 426 residents, 1 death per 10,049 residents. I think Bob is overly worried, and I hope he doesn't freak out further and start shootin'.

Quicksilver

[Amazon Link]

Operating theory: Neal Stephenson has access to a time machine where he can zap back to past centuries to observe little details that make the world described in Quicksilver (et. al.) seem so authentically rendered.

Or maybe he just reads and travels a lot.

It's big. Let me get that out of the way. 916 pages of main text. And it's not easy going, took me 32 days to get through it, and I skimmed. I was reminded of what the late great William Goldman did with S. Morganstern's novel The Princess Bride: brought out a "good parts" version, omitting all the Florinese political commentary.

I'm not sure what you could leave out of Quicksilver, though.

It begins in 1713 Massachusetts, where Enoch Root has traveled to fetch old Daniel Waterhouse from his position at the "Massachusetts Bay Colony Institute of Technologickal Arts". He needs to travel back across the Atlantic to try to mend the calculus feud between Newton and Leibniz. Pirates interfere.

Most of the book is set decades earlier. In addition to Daniel's story, we're also introduced to Jack Shaftoe. Jack starts out as a London street rat, but graduates to the life of vagabond and mercenary. While looting a war-torn Vienna, he rescues fair Eliza (a native of the fictional but picturesque isle of Qwghlm) from a Turkish harem. That's a meet-cute, isn't it? Ah, but true love never runs smooth, as Eliza eventually gets pissed enough at Jack to fling a harpoon at him.

Well, piles of stuff happens. And this is only the first book of three.

If you've read Cryptonomicon, you'll recognize Jack and Daniel as the ancestors of the 20th-century characters there. (You'll also recognize Enoch Root, who appears to be somewhat immortal.)

The book is also set against actual historical events: the Great Plague, the London Fire, the Glorious Revolution, and more. And actual historical figures, too. In addition to Newton and Leibniz: Locke, Pepys, Hooke, Bacon, Boyle,… And a lot of royalty and nobility.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-21

  • As I've said before, I tend to say "As I've said before" quite a bit.

    (See what I did there?)

    Maybe a bad habit. As David Byrne said (over and over): "Say something once, why say it again?" Of course, that's from "Psycho Killer", so maybe not meant as advice.

    All that leading up to Don Boudreaux's thoughts on the matter: Why I Repeat Myself.

    One reason for my repetition is that it’s good for my soul. This reason is selfish, for it’s about me and not about those persons who might read my pedestrian prose. Whenever I encounter rank economic ignorance, the experience is for me very much like hearing fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. (Young people: look it up.) To relieve myself of the grating annoyance I must write something in response. Even if I’m protesting only into the void, the very act of articulating a protest makes me feel better.

    But another reason for my repetition is less selfish than the first, although it’s undoubtedly more arrogant: If I use my voice, then someone – maybe multiple someones – might hear it and be prompted to think a bit differently, a bit more rationally, about economic reality.

    A third reason for my repetition is related to the second: economic ignorance repeats itself. Almost all that I write here at Cafe Hayek is offered in response to something that I encounter in newspapers, on other blogs, or in my e-mailbox. Pundits, politicians, and other professors incessantly go on about how free trade impoverishes the home country, about how so-called “price gouging” is a crime against humanity that must be prohibited, about how minimum-wage diktats help low-skilled workers either at no cost or at costs only to people who can afford to have such costs inflicted upon them, and about how the American middle-class has stagnated economically since Richard Nixon turned the Oval Office over to Gerald Ford.

    I'll take DB's argument as my defense.


  • I subscribe to Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby's Arguable newsletter. It drops into my inbox weekly, and it's full of good stuff.

    Unfortunately, it's not available on the web. Sigh. I don't know why not, but I suspect it's due to some brain-damaged Boston Globe marketing strategy.

    Even though I don't often share content you can't read on the web, JJ's latest had a section on mail-in voting, and he tells an interesting story:

    In 1995, the National Voter Registration Act — the “motor voter” law — came into effect. Under its provisions, states were required to accept voter registrations by mail, with no personal appearance before a town clerk or even proof of residence required. Nor was proof of citizenship asked for. Under motor voter, election officials were obliged to add to the voter list any name mailed in on a properly filled-out registration form. Anyone so registered could then request an absentee ballot — by mail, of course. The system was not only open to manipulation, I thought, but positively invited it.

    So I followed up that invitation. I registered my family cat as a voter in three different states — Massachusetts, Illinois, and Ohio — and then requested absentee ballots from all three jurisdictions. All three mailed ballots to the address provided, no questions asked. Had I wanted to, I could have registered the cat in all 50 states — and not just in one city per state, but in one per county. I didn’t cast the ballots I was sent, but I could have. And who would have suspected? Gaming the system was easy. And if that were the case for a mere columnist trying to make a point, imagine what could be accomplished by sophisticated political crooks bent on affecting the outcome in a tight race.

    I accept the findings of those who say there has been no evidence of serious vote-by-mail fraud. But absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. For better or for worse, America is about to have its first national election in which mailed-in ballots may well play a decisive role. For the sake of our country’s dwindling democratic self-confidence, let’s hope state and local election officials everywhere will be actively watching and testing for signs of registration scams or ballot theft.

    I might buy the "no evidence of serious fraud" argument if the voting system weren't designed to ensure that it's really difficult to detect fraud. Generally, the people who get caught make dumb mistakes. What is the level of fraud perpetrated by smart people?


  • A good paragraph from James P. Freeman's Best of the Web column from yesterday, on moving goalposts:

    In the bizarre world of conventional media analysis, burning trillions of dollars by shutting down society based on estimates from public health experts who turned out to be wrong was sensible, but allowing life-sustaining economic activity is a “brazen gamble.”

    Did I say "moving goalposts"? It's more like tearing down the old goalposts and converting the field over to a marching band competition.


  • And darned if one of my lefty Facebook friends didn't share this:

    Click "See more" if desired. It's more of the same. But here's the post's bottom line:

    Geek culture isn’t suddenly left wing... it always was. You just grew up to be intolerant. You became the villain in the stories you used to love.

    Oh dear. It's the left-wing geeks against intolerant villains!

    Now, it's usually a bad idea to start typing a comment at this point. I did anyway.

    Little did I know that my antediluvian political views were shaped by totally incorrect interpretations of comic books, movies, and TV shows of my youth.

    A gentle enough criticism, I hoped.

    But if I were feeling meaner, I woulda/coulda typed:

    It is not surprising that "left-wing geek culture" is solidly based on fantasies involving Nietzschean superheros, mystical Forces, and simplistic (albeit entertaining) feel-good morality plays.

    It is somewhat surprising how readily "left-wing geek culture" gobbles up such fantasies that uniformly emanate from titans of Corporate America: Disney, ViacomCBS, Warner Communications, et. al,, designed to suck as many dollars as possible from consumer wallets into the pockets of millionaires and billionaires.

    I would have thought lefties would be more skeptical of such sources.

    And that "Pass the 28th Amendment" thing? Apparently they've given up on that. The latest version of the proposed amendment's text is dated 2012, It is (however) a hoot, a barely coherent jumble of anti-religious bigotry, and left-wing wishlist items. It shows massive ignorance about the Constitution's purpose, containing items that could simply be legislated, a much easier process.

    But although it does ban "any religious, theistic or deitistic language or terminology" from the national motto and all currency, it does not mandate replacing the Star Spangled Banner with "Imagine".


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson does his bit to combat fake news: The George Floyd ‘Judge Judy’ Video Is Obviously a Misrepresentation. Briefly: there's a video making the rounds showing a 17-year-old kid on an old episode of Judge Judy admitting to being a carjacker. But it's not the same George Floyd.

    Which is not the point.

    Here is an interesting social phenomenon: When I take the time to point out to my correspondents that they have been lied to, and that they are, in turn, circulating lies, they become angry — at me, not at the person who lied to them.

    If you tell somebody a lie they want to hear, then you do not have to worry about explaining yourself or defending yourself — the people you lie to will defend the lie for you. They will hold tight to the lie. It is an amazing phenomenon. It’s small wonder we see so much dishonesty in our politics.

    People will go down fighting for a lie even if they know, in their hearts, that it is a lie. There are some obvious contributors to that strange situation — lack of self-respect, lack of religious and moral education, an attenuated sense of civic duty and patriotism, etc.

    Pun Salad fact check: True.


Last Modified 2020-07-21 4:28 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-07-20

[Amazon Link]

  • A long standing minor irritation is the constant invocation by educrats, prohibitionists, meddlers, and the like of "our children". A simple Amazon search came up with our product du jour as an example. (Not a recommendation, but if you feel moved, go for it.)

    Even just restricting a Google search to the nea.org domain gives over 1000 hits for "our children". Sample:

    So I smirked a bit at the headline in the NYT for the op-ed written by a Washington state teacher: Please Don’t Make Me Risk Getting Covid-19 to Teach Your Child.

    Boy, when the chips are down "our" kids become "your" kids mighty fast.

    Here's the first paragraph:

    Every day when I walk into work as a public-school teacher, I am prepared to take a bullet to save a child. In the age of school shootings, that’s what the job requires. But asking me to return to the classroom amid a pandemic and expose myself and my family to Covid-19 is like asking me to take that bullet home to my own family.

    Melodramatic self-sacrificing only goes so far. ("Could I get a take-out container for that bullet?") But I doubt her risk analysis is reality based, and I suspect her home-to-work commute is probably riskier than either Covid or school shooters.


  • At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty advises readers to get used to it: Fake News Becomes a Way of Life.

    Last week, the [NY] Times ran a story about a 30-year-old Texas man who believed COVID-19 was a hoax and contracted the disease at a “COVID party” before dying. Every detail of the story was uncorroborated, which made it exactly the kind of urban legend that moral panics produce. Though it was viral on social media, because it confirmed all the prejudices of the Times’s energized liberal readership, the Times began to edit the story as it was criticized here in National Review and in Wired. The entire tone of the story went from credulous to skeptical, but you wouldn’t have noticed the difference if you hadn’t been paying close attention, because no editor’s notes were appended to it announcing the changes. The Times has begun “stealth editing” its stories in this manner more and more lately, effacing the traditional journalistic ethic that seeks to keep an intact record not just of the news, but of how the reporting of the news evolves.

    Also last week, The Atlantic ran an essay, “How I Became a Police Abolitionist,” that roots the activism of its author in a heart-rending story of a 16-year-old gunned down by the police in a rec center for failing to put his name on a sign-in sheet. Christopher Bedford, at The Federalist, a conservative web outlet that has far fewer resources than The Atlantic, rather conclusively showed that the story as told was full of holes and likely never happened.

    I don't want to have to guess whether a story in an allegedly reputable publication is made up crap, but speaking in terms of Bayesian probability, the likelihood seems to be increasing.


  • [Amazon Link]
    And you would have to have a heart of stone not to get a chuckle from Jerry Coyne's story: Welcome to Stalin’s Russia: cancellation demanded for New York professor who fell asleep during an antiracist Zoom meeting.

    [If invoking Stalin seems like an extreme. Coyne first relates Solzhenitsyn’s story about the unfortunate apparatchik who made the mistake of being the first to stop applauding after a Stalin speech—after 11 minutes!]

    Quoting the NYPost story:

    Students at pricey Marymount Manhattan College are demanding a veteran professor be fired for allegedly falling asleep during an anti-racism Zoom meeting.

    Students at the Upper East Side school claim Patricia Simon, a theater arts associate professor, took a snooze during the virtual town hall last month, and have collected 1,800 petition signatures.

    For those who don't want to get caught, Pun Salad recommends the Amazon product on your right.


  • P. J. O'Rourke pens a column in appreciation for Eric Hoffer and his book, The True Believer: Why Mass Movements Make a Mess. Peej provides a selection of pithy quotes from the book and here are three:

    A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine or promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence.

    A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.

    A mass movement… appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self.

    I've somehow avoided reading Hoffer's book, but I own a copy, and it's on the TTR list.


  • But speaking of great thinkers, Michael Huemer has a question in that regard: Why Are the Great Thinkers Dead?.

    Suppose I ask you to name some of humanity’s great thinkers. What would you say? If you’re in philosophy, Plato and Aristotle will immediately come to mind. Then maybe Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Spinoza, Leibniz, Adam Smith. Go down the list. Maybe you’d add St. Augustine, J.S. Mill, Bertrand Russell, maybe even Wittgenstein. Among scientists, you’d surely include Galileo, Newton, Einstein. Then Darwin, Lavoisier, Archimedes, Maxwell, Boltzmann, etc. Q: how far do you have to go down the list before you name a person who is now alive? Pretty far, I bet.

    Do the same thing for artists and writers. You have people such as Mozart, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, etc. (I don’t know that many artists, so you fill in the rest. [Emoji Elided]) Again, how far do you have to go down the list before you reach one who is now alive? Pretty far. You might even refuse to name any living artists as ‘great’ no matter how many names you are prompted for.

    Since Freeman Dyson died, pickings are pretty slim, physicist-wise.

    MH has eight, count 'em eight, possible explanations for the dearth of living greatness. See if any seem credible to you.


Last Modified 2020-07-21 6:06 AM EDT

Emma.

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's not particularly uncommon to append a question mark (They Shoot Horses, Don't They? What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) or an exclamation point (Airplane! Scoob!) to the end of movie titles. But this one has a period at the end. It's Emma-full-stop.

I think I saw an explanation somewhere. It must be easy to Google… Ah, here it is.

This is not the kind of movie I typically like much, but it won me over. Based on the Jane Austen novel, set in early 19th century England, specifically its rich upper crust. I'm pretty sure we never see an actually-poor person. When the characters refer to someone as "poor", they mean someone who actually has to work for a living, like a farmer. Or servants.

The eponymous heroine is fond of meddling in the love lives of her friends and acquaintances. She is judgmental of some of their quirks. This can, and nearly does, lead to irrecoverable disaster, but (spoiler) things get sorted out at the end.

You know, HTML should really have a <spoiler> tag for spoilers.

The IMDB lists nine other movies and miniseries based on the Austen novel. So you have your pick. This one has excellent acting, gorgeous cinematography, and I assume fine costumery, although how would I know?

Willful

How We Choose What We Do

[Amazon Link]

I put this book on my get-at-library list back in February when the author, Richard Robb, appeared on Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast. (After the months-long library hiatus, things are finally starting to disappear from that list. It's pretty long.)

I was (and am) a lousy philosophy student, lacking patience and intellect. But I got a feeling about what I liked about the best philosophers or at least, my favorites: the ability to carefully dissect complex concepts into component parts, using precise and clear language, making plausible arguments and relevant examples.

Some of that has fallen out of favor these days. But not with Richard Robb! It's perhaps telling that Robb is not a philosopher, at least not a professional one: he's a hedge fund manager. He also has a teaching gig at Columbia, but in the "School of International and Public Affairs", where he teaches microeconomics, economic foundations of capital markets and international finance.

So he is nominally a real-world kind of guy. But here he delves into (see subtitle above) how we choose our actions. And his argument is straightforward. There is the Homo economicus model, where we are strict utility-maximizers, assigning a "price" to everything: worldly goods, various kinds of leisure, companionship, etc. We rationally trade off one for another.

Well, not always. Because we're also slaves to cognitive biases, so we make mistakes. And sometimes we have an unclear grasp on what we want. But those things can be corrected, and we're still in the realm of what Robb calls "purposeful" behavior, where goals can be (and often are) rationally compared, one against another.

But the main theme of the book is Robb's carve-out of "for-itself" choice. Things we do because "we are who we are". Because of our social relations with others. Because we want to stay on course to achieve our own goals, when it might make more "rational" sense to do eternal mid-course corrections.

So: not bad, all in all. Robb gives plenty of examples from his own life doing that hedge fund thing. If you think you would be interested, I'd suggest you check the podcast linked above, an easy intro.


Last Modified 2020-07-20 10:09 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2020-07-19 Update

[Amazon Link]

Another week of bad news for President Bone Spurs, another week of having the bettors shave his odds down.

But perhaps he can console himself with his expanded lead in phony hits!

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
7/12
Phony
Results
Change
Since
7/12
Donald Trump 36.8% -1.1% 1,810,000 +290,000
Joe Biden 59.6% +1.5% 506,000 +25,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Boy, if there ever was a Reason article whose headline said "Read Me", it's this one by Eric Boehm. Potential Key to the 2020 Election: Voters Who Can’t Stand Both Trump and Biden. Hey, that's me!

    Voters who can't stand either major-party presidential nominee could be one of the keys to the election—and unlike in 2016, that might be bad news for President Donald Trump.

    Four years ago, in a contest between two of the least-liked presidential nominees in history, Trump benefitted from the number of voters who found him slightly less detestable than Hillary Clinton. But a new Morning Consult poll suggests that Trump isn't doing as well with the "haters demographic" this time around. Voters who hold unfavorable views of both Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden are more likely to hold their nose and vote for the former vice president than for the incumbent.

    I think I've previously mentioned that I'm trying to follow the advice of Arthur C. Brooks: Love Your Enemies. But that's an increasingly unpopular stance in these days of modern time ("… when you can't tell the ACs from the DCs … ").


  • It's true that Orange Man said some good things at Mount Rushmore a few weeks back. especially:

    One of [the "angry mobs'"] political weapons is “Cancel Culture” — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.

    Yay, right? But thanks to CNN, he's kind of a fair-weather friend. Just taking the most recent examples:

    September 2019: Trump suggests that actress Debra Messing should be fired for calling on a news outlet to publish the names of people attending a Trump fundraiser and for a tweet promoting a church sign that said "a black vote for Trump is mental illness." (Messing had apologized for the tweet about the church sign.)

    January 2020: Trump says The New York Times should fire columnist Paul Krugman, a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, for having incorrectly predicted a global recession after Trump's victory in 2016.

    May 2020: The day after Twitter appended a fact check link to dishonest Trump claims about mail-in voting, Trump threatens to shut down social media companies: "Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen."

    May 2020: Trump seeks the firing of Chuck Todd, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," for the show playing a misleadingly shortened clip of comments by Attorney General William Barr. (Todd apologized, saying it was an inadvertent mistake.) Again broaching the power of the state, Trump tags the accounts of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates television, and its chairman, Ajit Pai.

    Fortunately, little came of such bloviating. The lefties are much more effective in getting folks canceled than is Trump.


  • [Amazon Link]
    In our occasional "Belaboring the Obvious" Department, Daniel Gallington in the Washington Times: Joe Biden's lying, bullying and cognitive deficits make him a poor choice for president. Just picking something from the middle:

    • Biden the bully: When he gets confronted by most anyone or anything, Mr. Biden’s automatic and practiced reaction is to bully the source of the challenge. As when he said that he has “three degrees,” was on “full scholarship,” graduated at the “top of his class” — all false — and that he has a “high IQ,” which is especially wishful thinking on his part. 

    In fact, he was almost kicked out of law school for massive plagiarism his freshman year and graduated at the bottom of his class — 76th out of 86. So, is Mr. Biden just stupid as well as demented? Could be, but for sure he also fits the “Seinfeld model” — when George tells Jerry “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” Can he actually believe the strange stuff he says? Whether he does doesn’t really matter — he seems simply not bright enough to know, so he’s not concerned by it.

    I predict a burgeoning market in 25th Amendment books. Link up there on your right if you want to get a copy to beat the rush.


  • Ronald Bailey at Reason says, accurately: Biden’s New Green New Deal Is the Same as the Old Green New Deal.

    Although he doesn't call it that, Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, rolled out his version of the Green New Deal during a Tuesday speech on how his administration would handle man-made climate change. Biden's "plan for a clean energy revolution and environmental justice" incorporates most of the environmental and economic policies outlined in previous Green New Deal proposals.

    Take the Green New Deal resolution introduced last year by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.). While somewhat vaguely aspirational, this aims to commit the U.S. to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, to creating millions of unionized jobs, to investing much more in clean infrastructure and industry, to hugely expanding public transit and high-speed rail, and to greatly increasing federal support for research and development in no-carbon energy generation. In June 2019, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez estimated that the Green New Deal would cost $10 trillion.

    Biden's plan (link above, dodge the donation button as best you can) advocates construction of "small modular nuclear reactors". Those always seem to be years in the future, but all right. The "old" green new deal doesn't mention nuclear at all; AOC claims to have an "open mind" on the issue, but that's a cowardly wimp-out, unless she simply hasn't thought seriously on the matter.


  • Progressive Ted Rall provides (appropriately enough in LA Progressive) 10 Reasons I Won’t Vote for Joe Biden. His view of Joe's "Green New Deal" is quite different from Ron Bailey's:

    Joe Biden wants to kill the planet. He still refuses to support a Green New Deal whose goal is zero net carbon emissions by 2030. He wants to do it by 2050. Way too late! Climate change experts say that human civilization may be extinct by then. I cannot vote for anyone who wants everyone on earth to die. Here too, Biden has been corrupted by giant contributions by oil and natural gas energy companies.

    Well… I'll just point out that the "climate change experts" Rall links to are apparently two guys in Australia. They may be right, hey I'm no expert, but that's not a consensus view, even among alarmists.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-18

Our Getty Image commemorates the newfound American love of being pushed around in any language.

  • But first, in case you thought it was only the CIA, FBI, CDC, FDA, … well, it's that government agency that depends on our warm and fuzzy feelings from 1969. That was then, this is now, and (according to Robert Zimmerman): NASA’s Orion is a program of lies.

    In a report [pdf] released today, NASA’s inspector general confirmed unequivocally what I have been saying for years, that the agency’s project to build the Orion capsule has been built on lies, from the beginning.

    And Zimmerman's conclusion is also worth excerpting:

    Overall this IG report is quite damning. It illustrates the corruption and failure of our leaders and their bureaucracy in Washington, going back almost twenty years. They can’t get the job done, and they lie about it continually. It is past time for these people to be fired, with the work given to someone else.

    And that someone else should be free Americans, in the private sector, doing what they wish to do.

    Might be time for NASA to concentrate on core competencies. They're pretty good at unmanned probes, right?


  • At the NR Corner, David Harsanyi tries to disabuse mask lovers: There's No Such Thing as a Federal Mask-Wearing Mandate.

    Reporters keep asking White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany if the president will consider a mask-wearing mandate. Journalists keep writing about federal mandates. House speaker Nancy Pelosi says a federal mandate on mask wearing is “long overdue.” Joe Biden promises that if he’s elected this November, he would require all Americans to wear masks in public.

    Have any reporters every wondered which federal agency would be tasked with forcing Nevadans or Texans to wear masks in public? Or under what constitutional power Biden can enact a mask-wearing ban in Vermont? Will he just sign an executive order? Or will he just declare a mandate like Michael Scott declared bankruptcy? And what federal agency would enforce the mask-wearing mandate? Will National Guard be called in? Will CDC paratroopers be dropped into Arkansas? Will Biden direct local police departments to chase down non-compliant joggers? Will there be a fine? Will there be jail time? Will the offenders stand in federal courts?

    See above. The demand from some of our fellow citizens for their government to find new ways to push other people around is on the increase. Never mind that pesky Constitution!

    And (as I've noted before) some of those same folks, post-9/11, were freaking out about the possibility that Dubya might be able to peruse the list of library books they had checked out. Good times.


  • I am more in tune with the laissez-faire but sensible attitude of James Lileks. Who favors Letting your mask speak for you.

    Oh, no: I got in an argument about masks.

    Oh, no, you quietly think: “I kinda liked this guy. Thought well of him. Silly fellow, sure, but he’s not one of ... one of those, is he?”

    No, I’m not. There. Feel better?

    You think: “No, because you didn’t say whether you’re on the side that thinks masks are meaningless theater designed to bring about a compliant, sheeplike population that gives up its constitutional right to exhale unimpeded, or the side that believes all possible social approbation should be brought down on people who don’t wear a mask in the car. What if you gave it to the radio announcer?”

    I understand that Linda Ronstadt has demanded that nobody listen to her songs without a mask. Even on an iPod 3000 miles away from her. Can't be too careful at her age.

  • And bona fide lefty Jonathan Chait has not been fired from New York magazine yet, but asking questions like this can't be good for his career: Is Anti-Racism Training Just Peddling White Supremacy?. He includes the (infamous, and now deleted) "whiteness" page from the African-American History Museum. He looks White Fragility author, Robin DiAngelo and How to be an Antiracist author, Ibram X. Kendi.

    Kendi, like DiAngelo, argues that racism must be defined objectively. Intent does not matter, only effect. Their own intentions are surely admirable. But the fact is that their insistence on denying that America provides its Black children worse educations inhibits working toward a solution. Denying the achievement gap, like denying the gap in how police treat white and Black people, seems to objectively entrench racism.

    It’s easy enough to see why executives and school administrators look around at a country exploding in righteous indignation at racism, and see the class of consultants selling their program of mystical healing as something that looks vaguely like a solution. But one day DiAngelo’s legions of customers will look back with embarrassment at the time when a moment of awakening to the depth of American racism drove them to embrace something very much like racism itself.

    Via Ann Althouse. To repeat once again: both Kendi's and DiAngelo's books are part of the "Racial Justice Resources" plugged by the University Near Here. Heretics and unbelievers in that gospel? Unless you're (say) J. K. Rowling, it is probably best to keep quiet about that if you want to be associated with UNH.


  • At the American Institute for Economic Research, Robert E. Wright provides a retrospective on The Sordid History of Scam Science. One example of many:

    Off-the-Charts Income Inequality: The mere framing of this concept belies its real purpose, to redistribute “income.” If framed correctly, as productivity inequality, the “problem” disappears or begs the question why a few people are so much more productive than most others and why some produce nothing at all. Hint: it is natural heterogeneity plus stochastic processes layered onto inequality-enhancing government regulations, like minimum wages, interest rate caps, and rent controls. In fact, rich countries have far less income and wealth inequality than poor ones and inequality cycles up and down rather than making a beeline towards either extreme. Most disturbing of all, it appears that some researchers are willing to distort statistics to match their doomsday scenarios. Thankfully, they have been called out repeatedly but not before their “story” had become a “stylized fact” widely accepted by the media and Twitter rage monkeys.

    The recurring theme: nobody is seriously called to account for being spectacularly wrong about (for another example) Alar. Meryl Streep still gets paid the big bucks for movies.


  • And finally, Virginia Postrel has advice on Coronavirus School Reopening: Teachers Need to Do More to Help.

    When the Los Angeles Unified School District announced on Monday that it will not resume any in-person instruction this fall, it was a political victory for teachers and a defeat for families, science and opportunity for all.

    The teachers’ union opposed reopening schools amid the continuing rise in Covid-19 cases locally, and lobbied for an early resolution to eliminate uncertainty.

    There's a lot to worry about, but VP argues (convincingly, to my mind) that there's little scientific reason for not returning to normal in the K-12 area.


URLs du Jour

2020-07-17

It's (partially) "white fragility" day here at Pun Salad, and today's Getty Image is the top result when you search for those words.

But for something so darn fragile, dandelions have a tenacious grip on some corners of my lawn where nothing else grows.

  • John McWhorter, apparently not yet fired by the Atlantic, looks at Robin DiAnglo's book: The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility.

    DiAngelo has spent a very long time conducting diversity seminars in which whites, exposed to her catechism, regularly tell her—many while crying, yelling, or storming toward the exit—that she’s insulting them and being reductionist. Yet none of this seems to have led her to look inward. Rather, she sees herself as the bearer of an exalted wisdom that these objectors fail to perceive, blinded by their inner racism. DiAngelo is less a coach than a proselytizer.

    When writers who are this sure of their convictions turn out to make a compelling case, it is genuinely exciting. This is sadly not one of those times, even though white guilt and politesse have apparently distracted many readers from the book’s numerous obvious flaws.

    For one, DiAngelo’s book is replete with claims that are either plain wrong or bizarrely disconnected from reality. Exactly who comes away from the saga of Jackie Robinson thinking he was the first Black baseball player good enough to compete with whites? “Imagine if instead the story,” DiAngelo writes, “went something like this: ‘Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.’” But no one need imagine this scenario, as others have pointed out, because it is something every baseball fan already knows. Later in the book, DiAngelo insinuates that, when white women cry upon being called racists, Black people are reminded of white women crying as they lied about being raped by Black men eons ago. But how would she know? Where is the evidence for this presumptuous claim?

    White Fragility, let me remind you, is on the official list of "Racial Justice Resources" at the University Near Here. Nobody told them that it, in McWhorter's words, "entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. "


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith is even more pitiless toward Robin DiAngelo & Anti-Racism Charlatans.

    You, there. Yes, you, white person. Ever attended a wedding at which only white people were present? How about an all-white funeral? Ever watched as a black person mopped the floor? You, I’m afraid, are racist.

    Lists of billionaires? Racist. Lists of top-grossing movies? Racist. Unselected Jeopardy categories? Racist. Today’s successor to the Ludovico technique has been ingeniously engineered by the White Fragility author, and America’s Race Whisperer, Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo is a white lady who has gotten very, very rich speaking to litigation-averse corporations, campus groups, self-flagellating white progressives, and black allies joining the cause of white guilt, which is apparently like the rain in Blade Runner, a mephitic poison that is forever soaking everyone to the bone.

    I am illiterate enough so that I had to Google "Ludovico technique".


  • And Ann Althouse wonders: What is the science behind the "white fragility" ideology that people are being pressured to internalize and not question?. Ann looks at an NYT Magazine artucke that seems to say: not much. She quotes:

    If the aim is to dismantle white supremacy, to redistribute power and influence... do the messages of today’s antiracism training risk undermining the goal by depicting an overwhelmingly rigged society in which white people control nearly all the outcomes, by inculcating the idea that the traditional skills needed to succeed in school and in the upper levels of the workplace are somehow inherently white, by spreading the notion that teachers shouldn’t expect traditional skills as much from their Black students, by unwittingly teaching white people that Black people require allowances, warrant extraordinary empathy and can’t really shape their own destinies?

    That's a long sentence with a question mark at the end. I know which way I'd bet.


  • But enough fragility! The Free Beacon looks at a different book: University's Anti-Bigotry Reading List Includes Book That Equates Conservatism With Racism.

    George Washington University is urging students to read Conservatism and Racism, and Why in America They Are the Same in an effort to educate them about the dangers of stereotypes and discrimination.

    The "Solidarity Resource Syllabus" released by the Washington, D.C.-based school's Office of Diversity provides students with a reading list that focuses on racism in the United States. Among the 126 books that the university says "actively and effectively … [combat] injustice" is San Francisco State University professor Robert Smith's 2010 book that equates conservative beliefs with bigotry. That label applies to all who subscribe to right-leaning beliefs, including people of color.

    Amazon link to the Kindle version ($18.33). Or a mere $33.95 for the paperback, $95 for hardcolver. In any case, a small price to pay to have some guy tell me I'm a racist, right?


  • I detect a tinge of sarcasm in the headline to Nick Gillespie's Reason article: How Non-Existent Cancel Culture Works at Princeton and Elsewhere.

    Last week in Quillette, a Princeton Classics professor, Joshua T. Katz, published an article criticizing a letter signed by some of his institution's professors "to block the mechanisms that have allowed systemic racism to work, visibly and invisibly, in Princeton's operations." The faculty letter insisted that "Anti-Blackness is foundational to America" and that it was "rampant" even at progressive institutions such as the school formerly known as the College of New Jersey. The letter articulated a long list of demands regarding the recruitment and retention of people of color as faculty members and students and even called for the creation of

    a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty, following a protocol for grievance and appeal to be spelled out in Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. Guidelines on what counts as racist behavior, incidents, research, and publication will be authored by a faculty committee for incorporation into the same set of rules and procedures.

    In the Quillette article, Katz agreed with some of the letter's action items but said that the above "scares me more than anything else: For colleagues to police one another's research and publications in this way would be outrageous." On its face, the call to investigate and discipline research and publications of other faculty is a complete refutation of academic freedom.

    And since "cancel culture" doesn't exist, Princeton's administration, faculty, and students welcomed Katz's dissent from the prevailing campus orthodoxy.

    Kidding! Princeton's president, Christopher Eisgruber, took to the media to castigate Katz. And a university spokesmodel said that the administration "will be looking into the matter further." Uh oh.

    Katz will probably survive. But the broader point is to make sure no other Princeton people get any funny ideas about expressing ideas the local Maoists might find irritating.


  • And Matthew Hoy is a very infrequent blogger these days, but recent Media Fact-Checking Failures pushed him to pound the keyboard.

    Two Sundays ago, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and, like much of the media, lied about President Trump’s July 3 Speech at Mount Rushmore.

    The Illinois Democrat told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the president’s Friday speech in South Dakota “spent more time worried about honoring dead Confederates” than discussing the number of Americans who died from COVID-19.

    “I mean his priorities are all wrong here,” she said. “He should be talking about what we’re gonna do to overcome this pandemic. What are we going to do to push Russia back?”

    “Instead, he had no time for that,” she added. “He spent all his time talking about dead traitors.”

    You can read a transcript of Trump’s speech here. There is nary a mention of a single “dead Confederate” anywhere in the speech.

    The MSM dissects and nitpicks Trump's statements to death. Fish, barrel, gun, right? But Matthew tried and failed to find a single MSM "fact-checker" that bothered to characterize Senator Tammy's tirade as reality-impaired.

The Good Cop

[Amazon Link]

This is another book off WSJ reviewer Tom Nolan's Best Mystery Books of 2019 list. Seven down, three to go!

There's not much whodunit content. It is (mostly) set in Germany between the World Wars, in Munich where the Nazi Party is surging in power and influence. So when a terrorist crime is committed, who did it? Duh, dude: the Nazis.

The titular Good Cop is Willi Geismeier, an unkempt police detective in Munich. He's an excellent case-clearer, with good instincts and a dogged pursuer of the truth. Unfortunately, this doesn't endear him to his corrupt and lazy superiors. Nor does it portend well that the Nazis are infiltrating the police department, rewarding their friends, covering up the truth. As Tom Nolan says, Willi is forced to "play a long game with history".

It's a pretty good page-turner, but I'm beginning to think that Tom Nolan's "Best" list is politically influenced. In addition to Willi's story, the true-history of Hitler's efforts are described in detail. Few people these days are Hitler fans, but the book is pretty heavy-handed in drawing Trumpian parallels. Hitler apparently promised to "make Germany great again" and if you missed the author's first reference to that, there are at least a couple more.

Basically, Trump-is-Hitler believers will nod in recognition to such dog whistles. Others will sigh and move on. At least there were no references to the insidious Nazi-sympathetic radio stations, known as Das Fuchs Netzwerk.

Speaking of dogs… The author, Peter Steiner, is (probably) more widely known as a New Yorker cartoonist, and People of a Certain Age may well remember his most famous cartoon from 1993:

Internet dog.jpg
By Source, Fair use, Link

I believe just about every geek's door and bulletin board at the University Near Here had a copy of that cartoon.


Last Modified 2020-07-29 5:21 AM EDT

Murder by Decree

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another movie I'm claiming to have watched. Because I saw about a half hour of the beginning, maybe 40 minutes of the end and… I don't know, maybe 10 minutes here and there in between?

Part of the problem: the disk offered no subtitles. Really, this is a must. Especially when everyone has an English accent, ranging from plummy to downscale.

Anyway: it's a Sherlock Holmes movie, with Christopher Plummer as The Man Himself, James Mason as Dr. Watson. They are up against a formidable foe: Jack the Ripper.

Now I'm going to give you some spoiler-level details: the ladies aren't being murdered at random, as everyone assumes. They're being offed because they may know something. Something that might damage a very important personage. So it's a vast conspiracy. Involving Freemasons, I think. (This is based on an old non-fiction book setting forth this theory.)

Anyway, there's a lot of good acting, and some fighting. Donald Sutherland is in it too, but I couldn't figure out why exactly. It's directed by Bob Clark, who went on to direct less-classy movies like Porky's.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-16

  • Pun Son is more plugged into the goings-on at the University Near Here than is either one of his parents, so I was surprised to learn that one of the policies that might be put into place is some sort of draconian punishment for any student who attends a "Covid Party".

    But are such things real? Wired provides a Covid party skeptic take.

    The Covid party craze continues to sweep the nation—or, at least, the nation’s news organizations. The latest example comes from Texas, where a 30-year-old man is said to have confessed on his death bed that he had attended one. “Just before the patient died,” announced Jane Appleby, chief medical officer at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, “they looked at their nurse and said, ‘I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.’”

    What started out as local news in south Texas on Friday soon became a national story. By Sunday it had made its way into a write-up for The New York Times, which duly quoted one physician’s warning that such parties are “dangerous, irresponsible, and potentially deadly.”

    That's just the latest tale, picked up by major news organization with little apparent fact-checking done before publication.

    To see how bad this can get, Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review notes the "professionalism" involved: 'NYT' Runs COVID Story With Unconfirmed Sources.

    It’s a morality tale, really. Don’t believe it’s a hoax! Or that you aren’t at risk because you are young! Maybe don’t live in a bad red state where they aren’t taking COVID seriously, or go to these parties. The only thing missing was a MAGA hat and a rueful dying admission, “I shouldn’t have trusted Trump or my Republican governor!”

    MBD goes on to note that the NYT story went through a number of stealth edits, each one nudging up the skepticism. Which should have been applied in the first place, but why bother when you can do the "morality tale" thing?

    Our Getty Image du Jour is something that showed up when I searched for "urban legends". It doesn't really have anything to do with urban legends, but it looked kind of neat.


  • David Harsanyi notes Joe Biden's new fan, Angela Davis.

    Last night, 76-year-old radical Angela Davis was trending on Twitter due to her endorsement of 77-year-old presidential hopeful Joe Biden. Bravely we go into the future, I guess. While no politician can control who supports them, apparently numerous pundits believe that the Davis endorsement is worthy of celebration (though most also carefully avoided noting her blessing was made on Russian propaganda television).

    “Why isn’t Angela Davis asked for commentary on major news channels?” wonders the Washington Post’s Wajahat Ali. Well, I’ve can think of a few reasons.

    1) Davis is an unrepentant champion of domestic terrorists and murderers. In the early 1970s, Davis famously bought two of the guns used in a 1970 Marin County courtroom kidnapping-shootout perpetrated by Black Panthers, in which a superior court judge and three hostages were murdered. After being charged with “aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder,” Davis went into hiding. Even after the FBI caught up to her, and even after evidence showed that she had been in correspondence with the planners and well aware of their violent disposition, she was acquitted in 1972.

    And a couple more reasons at the link. To its everlasting shame, the University Near Here invited Davis to speak for its annual MLK Day hoopla back in 2009.


  • At Reason, Matt Welch notes the departure of Bari Weiss from the NYT.

    Bari Weiss, one of the most polarizing journalists in the country, has resigned from the opinion section of The New York Times, citing a "hostile work environment" and an institutional yielding to an increasingly extreme ideological "orthodoxy."

    "The truth is that intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at The Times," Weiss wrote in a scorching resignation letter self-published Tuesday morning. "Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world? And so self-censorship has become the norm."

    The deep thinkers at Twitter have pronounced Ms. Weiss self-important, self-indulgent, narcissistic, useless, a self-ascribed martyr, trash, superficial, self-promoting, dumb, back-stabbing, … Well, I'm tired of copying-and-pasting.

    I'd like to suggest an experiment for those folks: try aiming those insults at someone on "your side". See how well you get treated.


  • At NH Journal, Michael Graham notes an important discovery: Teachers Unions Have Found A Substance That Kills COVID-19 in the Classroom. Hint: it's green.

    “The federal government must make massive federal appropriations earmarked for public schools.”

    That’s an excerpt from the National Education Association’s report: “All Hands on Deck: Initial Guidance Regarding Reopening School Buildings.” When people complain that the teachers unions don’t have a plan for reopening schools other than “give us more money,” this is the document the NEA points to.

    Its message: Give us more money — and not just for the classroom.

    When Uncle Stupid starts throwing money out of its coffers, there is no shortage of people dashing around with buckets hoping to catch "their share".


  • And we've done parts I and II, here's Daniel J. Mitchell with The State With the Greediest Politicians, Part III. After previously looking at income tax and sales tax burdens…

    What if we also measure other sources of tax revenue (property taxes, excise taxes, severance taxes, etc)?

    And what about the various fees and charges that also are imposed by state and local governments?

    To account for all these factors, we obviously need a comprehensive measure. And since the real cost of government is how much it is spending (regardless of whether the outlays are financed by taxes or borrowing), the most accurate approach is to calculate the relative spending burdens imposed by state and local governments.

    Mr. Mitchell provides "top 10" and "bottom 10" of states ranked by "Government Spending as a Share of Personal Income" and "Government Spending Per-Capita". New Hampshire shows up pretty well on the first.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-15

  • James P. Freeman, in his WSJ "Best of the Web" column wonders: Can We Find New Governors?.

    In the upside-down world of modern press coverage, politicians win praise for opportunity-crushing lockdowns while a new White House effort to encourage job seekers is attracting scorn across the media landscape.

    As for the lockdowners, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D., Calif.) has recently pivoted from praising protesters who were gathering in public and shouting near each other to blaming young people who gather for a “selfish mindset” that he ties to a recent increase in Covid cases.

    Of course young people have been sacrificing plenty lately due to the shutdowns which amount to a massive transfer of generational wealth. The cost is not just measured in the reduced employment and educational opportunities being imposed upon them—which will dent future earnings. There is also the massive debt they will be forced to carry as they attempt to build careers.

    A Journal editorial notes that “federal spending for the first nine months of fiscal 2020 hit a record $5.005 trillion. Congratulations to everyone, and especially young Americans. You’ll be paying for it the rest of your lives. The Congressional Budget Office fiscal report for June says outlays rose 49% in the first nine months, or $1.649 trillion more than a year earlier.”

    Do you think that, eventually, young people might actually become "woke" to how badly Uncle Stupid's profligate spending is putting them on the hook?


  • Well maybe not. Because they're too busy with stuff like making sure a mural at Vermont Law School gets painted over. Because it depicts some sort of pro-slavery Confederate white supremacist ideology? Well, no:

    Vermont Law School plans to paint over a mural in its student center that highlights Vermont’s role in the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement after members of the law school community objected to its depictions of African Americans and said it made some people uncomfortable.

    VLS President and Dean Thomas McHenry said in a schoolwide email this week that students and alumni had raised concerns about the mural in the Chase Community Center, which was painted by Vermont-based artist Sam Kerson in 1993 with the school’s blessing, even winning recognition from The Christian Science Monitor at the time.

    Eyeroll. Vermont gotta Vermont, I suppose. Still, 27 years is a little quick for a piece of art to go from "admirably progressive" to "unacceptably racist".

    Local note: the Durham NH Post Office has a mural that's been making people uncomfortable for years. I haven't noticed any recent outrage though, and I'm kind of surprised about that. Usually there's no place quicker to slip into trendy outrage than Durham.


  • Speaking of outrage, the Free Beacon reviews the customization options at the NBA online store.

    In keeping with league policy on political statements, the official online store of the NBA does not permit fans to order a custom jersey with the phrase "Free Hong Kong" printed on the back.

    "Free Hong Kong" is one of the many phrases banned under the NBA's new jersey policy, which allows players to display certain political messages such as "Black Lives Matter," but prohibits messages critical of the Chinese regime.

    Typing "Free Hong Kong" into the text box on the NBA store's custom jersey page returns the following message: "We are unable to customize this item with the text you have entered. Please try a different entry."

    As I type, this may have been rescinded. I was able to specify "FreeHongKong" on a Men's Boston Celtics Nike Black Swingman Custom Jersey. I didn't complete the $139.99 order, though. That's a little steep for a clothing item I would look even dumber than usual wearing.


  • Michael Graham's NH Journal takes note of a local signatory: UNH Prof Signs Anti-Free-Speech Letter Dismissing 'So-Called Cancel Culture'.

    The contentious fight over freedom of expression has come to the University of New Hampshire, where a progressive professor has signed onto a letter supporting the suppression of free speech and defending what’s commonly known as “cancel culture.”

    The prof is Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (pun-mentioned previously here, here, here, here, and here). I'll just snip out this bit from the illiberal letter:

    The signatories, many of them white, wealthy, and endowed with massive platforms, argue that they are afraid of being silenced, that so-called cancel culture is out of control, and that they fear for their jobs and free exchange of ideas, even as they speak from one of the most prestigious magazines in the country.

    Nearly every bit of that is a lie.

    But I like that "endowed with massive platforms" bit. When read aloud, certainly there should be a pregnant pause inserted between "massive" and "platforms".

    But here: read for yourself if you haven't already done so. You'll notice:

    • Nowhere do the signees say they are "afraid of being silenced".
    • Nor do they say "so-called cancel culture is out of control"; the word "cancel" does not appear in any form.
    • I don't see where they say they "fear for their jobs". (Although as you may have heard, one of the signers, Bari Weiss, did lose her job.)
    • Nor do they say they "fear" for the "free exchange of ideas"—they do claim, as a fact, that the "free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted."

    I've noticed that debating tactic quite a bit lately: claiming how your opponents are "afraid of X" or "fear Y". Essentially: those guys are a bunch of scaredy-cats, certainly neurotic, probably paranoid. It's a cheap way to avoid having to refute an actual argument.


  • Daniel Mitchell, as promised, discusses The State With the Greediest Politicians, Part II. Looking at the Tax Foundation report on sales tax rates, and includes this graphic:

    [Sales Tax Rates]

    The deeper purple, the more you want to avoid buying stuff.

    NH shows up with a 0.0% sales tax rate, fine, but deserves a lot of asterisks. The Rooms and Meals tax: state gets a 9% cut.

    And they don't have a sales tax line on the receipt when you buy booze from a NH State Liquor Store, but somehow a certain fraction of your dollars spent wind up in state coffers.


  • And Kevin D. Williamson is appropriately merciless and hilarious about Roger Stone.

    Roger Stone committed a raft of felonies in order to protect the political interests of Donald Trump, who has now commuted Stone’s sentence as a reward for Stone’s political loyalty. Stone’s misdeeds include collaborating with the Russian intelligence cutout known as “Guccifer 2.0,” though I am inclined to credit the defense he has offered there — that he is too stupid to understand that he was being manipulated by the GRU. The specific crimes of which he was convicted go straight to the question of trust: witness-tampering and perjury. As National Review’s editorial put it: “He was justly convicted of these charges and deserved to go to jail; in our system of justice, self-parody is no defense.”

    Trump’s self-serving commutation of Stone’s prison sentence is another chip off the U.S. government’s foundation of trust and legitimacy. No one can claim to be surprised by this behavior — this is exactly what any reasonable person would expect from Donald Trump and from his associates. It is what Bill Bennett would have expected if he had understood his own books or had not forgotten what they say. The heavy price we will pay for Trump’s presidency is not that we will feel bad as a people about his lack of virtue and have a good cry over it but that his lies and abuse will leave the government itself, along with the political system and our civic culture, degraded. It is not a baby step but a mighty stride down the road to the Venezuelafication of American politics, and if you don’t think we have our own Hugo Chávez out there ready to step forward and fill the trust gap with ideology and an enemies’ list, then you are not paying very close attention.

    I'm long past being disappointed in Trump. I'm still disappointed with American voters.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-14

See if you can pick the bit that made me laugh out loud: Citizen vs. Government (Vol. 3).

But it's mostly uncontrollable sobbing and howls of outrage for me these days

  • Speaking of howls of outrage, National Review's Andrew C. McCarthy looks at the Roger Stone communtation which made… Amnesiac Democrats Howl in Outrage.

    Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother for felony distribution of cocaine. And a key witness in the Whitewater scandal for which he and Hillary Clinton were under investigation. And three others convicted in independent counsel Ken Starr’s probe. And Marc Rich, in what was a straight up political payoff. And his CIA director. And his HUD secretary. And eight people convicted in an investigation of his Agriculture Department.

    No surprise there: The Clintons and their supporters then, like Trump and his supporters now, regarded the special-prosecutor probes into the administration as witch hunts.

    Clinton also commuted the sentences of convicted terrorists, some of whom hadn’t even asked for clemency. Shameless as he was, though, even he couldn’t bring himself to pardon Oscar Lopez Rivera, the defiantly unrepentant FALN leader.

    President Obama took care of that.

    Yes, this is "whataboutism". And "Trump is as bad as Clinton"? Not a great campaign ad.

    But for those of us who'd like rules and norms applied equally to both sides…


  • I love state-comparison articles, probably because New Hampshire usually comes off pretty well. If you're the same, check out Daniel J. Mitchell's latest: The State With the Greediest Politicians, Part I.

    When considering which state has the greediest politicians, the flippant (but understandable) answer is to say “all of them.”

    A more serious way of dealing with that question, though, is to look at overall rankings of economic policy.

    According to the Fraser Institute, we can assume that Delaware apparently has the worst politicians and New Hampshire has the best ones.

    According to comprehensive calculations in Freedom in the 50 States, New York’s politicians seem to be the worst and Florida’s are the best.

    But we're number two on that last one. Click through for Tax Foundation's ranking based on income tax rates; NH is a mixed bag there, with its 5% Interest and Dividends Tax.

    Looking forward to Parts 2 through N.


  • At the WSJ, Gerard Baker: Democracy Dies in Darkness, but Don’t Blame Trump.

    Remember the grave warnings when Donald Trump was elected about how his presidency would usher in an unprecedented assault on freedom of expression?

    Ululations of orchestrated hysteria went up from the nation’s media. It was 1933 again. Late Weimar America would succumb to an authoritarian with a distinctive haircut and a penchant for intolerant rhetoric.

    A few weeks before the 2016 election, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a thunderous warning: “A Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.”

    “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” which some have noted sounds like the working title for an inferior James Bond movie, became the daily front-page leitmotif of a major newspaper, its reporters bravely committed to holding aloft the flickering lamp of freedom amid the gathering gloom of tyranny.

    People threatened with job losses (or, in some cases, actually losing their jobs) for speaking unpopular opinions, thanks to… Trump?


  • So it's time for some sorely needed comic relief. John Sexton anylzes the latest brain droppings from AOC. Why the sudden increase in NYC crime, AOC?

    As Treacher said in a comment: "She saw Les Miserables and thought it was a documentary."

    I'm pretty sure that they don't break out "bread theft" in the crime stats, but I'm confident it's not a major problem in NYC, at least not since the seventh season of Seinfeld.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-13

[Amazon Link]

  • Michael Brendan Dougherty observes at National Reivew that Empty Slogans Dominate American Politics. He takes aim specifically at…

    The two most powerful political slogans of our era are “Make America Great Again”, and “Black Lives Matter.” Both of them, once uttered, seemed to invite immediate, obvious, simple-minded rejoinders. “America is already great,” say Trump’s opponents. “All Lives Matter,” say those who are made uncomfortable by the hint of exclusion in BLM. But for the initiated, the rejoinders almost prove the necessity of repeating the slogan.

    In other words, the genius of both phrases is that they are self-authenticating.

    When pundits and think-tankers shout back “America is already great,” they confirm that they were servants for the winners of the last 30 years of American politics. Trump’s signature mantra is aimed directly at the places that have lost their manufacturing jobs to Mexico or China, the places that suddenly have a major drug problem or an abundance of unemployed middle-aged men, the places where life expectancy is going down and confidence in the next generation doing better than the last is at an all-time low.

    The people shouting “All Lives Matter” energize anti-racist activists, to whom they seem obtuse. For most of its adherents, “Black Lives Matter” isn’t meant as a slur or slight on non-blacks. It is a cry for attention to problems that uniquely afflict black lives in America. It is a demand for addressing those problems specifically. It is a call for dignity. The black experience in America is unique to blacks. That matters, or at least it should. The very discomfort with acknowledging that of course black lives matter is evidence that the assertion has to be repeated over and over again until people get it.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour comes printed with my favorite slogan. Also acceptable: "I'm wearing this because I want to, not because I have to."


  • Another fine slogan, definitely an LFOD runner-up, is that good old Who song: "[We] Won't Get Fooled Again" Unfortunately, as Mike Gonzalez noted recently in the WSJ: We Might Get Fooled Again.

    Faced with general unrest in the streets, will America’s political, corporate and media leaders panic? Will they acquiesce to bad policies that the nation will regret for decades? You can count on it, because that’s what happened the last time America was convulsed by racially charged riots.

    Some 700 riots shook America between 1965 and 1971, leaving devastation in their wake. Between 1965 and 1968, more than 300 riots left 250 people dead and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, according to historian Hugh Davis Graham. The establishment lost its nerve and capitulated. Militants intimidated politicians, college administrators and midlevel bureaucrats into laying the foundation for the identity politics that rankle our lives today.

    It's (slightly) good news that 2020 violence, at least so far, isn't comparable to that seen 50 years ago. But the reflex "solution" of giving money and power to bullshit-peddling hucksters is the same.


  • Speaking of hucksters, Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown notes another crusade: After Dems Exaggerate Impact, Panicked Kids Are Suing Over Betsy DeVos Title IX Changes.

    Seven students are joining a National Women's Law Center (NWLC) lawsuit challenging new guidelines related to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits education discrimination on the basis of sex. Some of their stories suggest that Democrats' distorted descriptions of the changes could be doing real damage.

    U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos formally issued the new rules—set to take place August 14—in May 2020, following a massive influx of public comments since she first proposed them back in 2018. But her proposal also ushered in a wave of hyperbolic, misleading, and dishonest claims about what these proposed changes would mean.

    If we assume President Biden, it's virtually certain the New Boss will revert to the same "Dear Colleague" rules as enacted under the Old Boss. And universities who have violated their students' due process rights will be back to the courts attempting to defend the indefensible.


  • In the NYPost, Michael Barone notes The most dishonest, biased news coverage of our lifetimes. And that's a pretty high bar.

    ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen such dishonest and biased coverage of any event.” That was Brit Hume, who has been covering events for more than 50 years for Fox News, ABC News and investigative reporter Jack Anderson.

    The event was President Trump’s Independence Day speech at Mount Rushmore.

    The speech was, according to The New York Times, “dark and divisive,” designed to deliver a “divisive culture war message.” The Washington Post called it a “dystopian speech” and a “push to amplify racism.”

    Absent from their stories were quotations supporting racism. Nor did Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth supply any quotations to support her claim that Trump “spent all his time talking about dead traitors.” Trump mentioned no Confederates but did quote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

    I don't question Senator Duckworth's patriotism, but her honesty is … I guess typical for our times.


  • I'm reading The Good Cop, a novel by Peter Steiner, Amazon link (currently) over there on the right. Set in 1920s Germany, it's a decent page-turner, but it's also a heavy-handed effort to draw parallels between Trump and Hitler.

    Steiner would have been well advised to consult with George Will on The difference between Trumpism and fascism.

    So many excitable Americans are hurling accusations of fascism, there might be more definitions of “fascism” than there are actual fascists. Fascism, one of the 20th century’s fighting faiths, has only faint echoes in 21st-century America’s political regression.

    Europe’s revolutionary tradition exalted liberty, equality and fraternity until revolutionary fascism sacrificed the first to the second and third. Fascism fancied itself as modernity armed — science translated into machines, especially airplanes, and pure energy restlessly seeking things to smash. Actually, it was a recoil against Enlightenment individualism: the idea that good societies allow reasoning, rights-bearing people to define for themselves the worthy life.

    Individualism, fascists insisted, produces a human dust of deracinated people (Nietzsche’s “the sand of humanity”), whose loneliness and purposelessness could be cured by gusts of charismatic leadership blowing them into vibrant national-cum-tribal collectivities. The gusts were fascist rhetoric, magnified by radio, which in its novelty was a more powerful political tool than television has ever been.

    Mr. Will makes a good point about the convenient elasticity of the word "fascism", echoing a observation made by George Orwell nearly 75 years ago: it "has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’" And I can't help but think that it's gotten way worse since then.

    Trump doesn't appear until the end of Mr. Will's column:

    Donald Trump, an envious acolyte of today’s various strongmen, appeals to those in thrall to country-music manliness: “We’re truck-driving, beer-drinking, big-chested Americans too freedom-loving to let any itsy-bitsy virus make us wear masks.” Trump, however, is a faux nationalist who disdains his nation’s golden age of international leadership and institution-building after 1945.

    Trumpism, too, is a mood masquerading as a doctrine, an entertainment genre based on contempt for its bellowing audiences. Fascism was and is more interesting.

    I'm pretty sure people are already demanding that Mr. Will be cancelled because "he thinks Fascism is interesting."

The Phony Campaign

2020-07-12 Update

[Amazon Link]

Our Amazon Product du Jour is an actual book. The list price is $19.99, but Amazon has it for $17.99!

And at 48 pages (and apparently only 27 pages containing text), it's a ripoff at just about any price.

Before hitting that "Buy Now" button, though, you might want to check out the review from Andrew Stiles at the Free Beacon. Andrew notes that Dr. Jill dedicates the book to "[her] grandchildren", but only lists six, omitting Hunter Biden's illegitimate child, who's coming up on his or her second birthday.

But Wheezy Joey continued to expand his lead in the betting markets, and even narrowed the phony gap a bit:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
7/5
Phony
Results
Change
Since
7/5
Donald Trump 37.9% -0.4% 1,520,000 -290,000
Joe Biden 58.1% +1.0% 481,000 +8,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

In honor, we'll do an all-Joe linkfest this week:

  • Our state's onetime senator, Judd Gregg, is not too polite to point out the glaringly obvious in his Hill column: The coming Biden coup. He's talking about the "socialist/progressive movers who now control the board in the game of Democratic Party politics" who "have no ethical tether." Their past performance is pretty much a guarantee of future results. Assuming they get one of their tribe in as VP:

    They will not tolerate for long not being in total control. They will have their vice president, but not their president. And they are a very impatient people and movement.

    Since their goal is power and their purpose pure, why should they wait?

    The path to total control is clearly there once they have the vice presidency.

    It is the 25th Amendment.

    Within a few months of assuming the presidency, Biden may find himself being the next statue toppled as the socialist/progressive movement moves closer to power.

    Similar to an argument I've made myself. Judd only errs (I think) in overestimating Biden's willingness and ability to obstruct the "socialist/progressive" agenda? Why should he want to? And even if he did want to, are we going to assume his dwindling mental powers are up to such a task?

    I think a more likely scenario is that Biden will be removed because once he's served the purpose of getting Democratic Party control of the executive... everyone will claim to be "shocked, shocked" to find that he's not firing on all mental cylinders. And they already have the 25th Amendment memorized.


  • Biden's riding high in the polls, but that could all come crashing down if he's forced into generating coherent English without a teleprompter. Like in an unscripted debate. Fortunately, as Ann Althouse notes, there's now a movement to make sure that doesn't happen: The effort to rescue Biden from the demand to debate continues apace.

    I was just talking about this a couple weeks ago, when WaPo had a column "It’s time to rethink the presidential debates." The columnist, I said, was "only proposing that the debates take place in a TV studio with no audience, but I expect to see a push to eliminate the debates. Not campaigning has been working well for Biden, and not debating is another step in the do-nothing game. Will he look worse doing the debate or worse avoiding the debate? I think the press will do what it can to make him look especially principled, lofty, and judicious as he declines to appear in the presence of the orange monster."

    I worry about Joe Biden debating Donald Trump. He should do it only under two conditions. Otherwise, he’s giving Trump unfair advantages.
    The first condition has nothing to do with the nature of the debate. It's just a demand that Trump release his tax returns, so that just seems like generating an excuse not to debate. Friedman tries to make this demand relate to the debate by saying that Biden has released his tax returns and that was  "gifting Trump something he can attack." It's not a level playing field, you see.

    The second condition is a ridiculous proposal — "a real-time fact-checking team approved by both candidates be hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates." Friedman imagines that these beings would — "10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered. That way no one in that massive television audience can go away easily misled."

    Scenario: the Biden camp and its media lapdogs escalate demands for favorable debate ground rules until Trump says "no".

    And then: "See, we tried to have a debate, but Trump said no."


  • Once a plagiarist, … Steve Guest, a Trump flack, actually read some Biden campaign effluvia and found: Joe Biden’s Unity Task Force recommendations copy and paste word-for-word from Bernie Sanders quite a bit. Example:

    And more at Twitter, but you get the idea.

    The sycophants at Vox, by the way, view the result of the "Unity Task Force" as enabling a "bold progressive agenda". (And they say it as if it were a good thing.)


  • But for even more depressing news, see Kevin D. Williamson at National Review. Joe Biden’s Economic Plan: Substantially the Same as Trump’s.

    A promise of economic nationalism, an expensive infrastructure bill that’s really a make-work program, prejudice against foreigners, denunciations of Wall Street — Joe Biden is running the 2016 Trump campaign against Donald Trump in 2020.

    Joe Biden gave a big economic speech in Pennsylvania yesterday, and his economic agenda has three parts: 1) a $400 billion federal-spending spree with some additional “Buy American” rules attached to it; 2) a somewhat-more-modest ($300 billion) raft of subsidies for politically connected industries (electric vehicles, telecoms) that we are going to pretend is a research-and-development program; 3) a very large tax increase (by some estimates, the largest proposed in modern times) to pay for No. 1 and No. 2. You will recognize this as approximately the same bullsh** that Donald Trump was peddling in 2016 and Barack Obama was peddling in 2008 and 2012. It is the same crap that has at various times been peddled by figures such as George Wallace, Ross Perot, and Pat Buchanan, and by relatively minor figures such as Ted Strickland. It is nonsense, but it never goes out of fashion.

    Kevin was not the only one to notice. Politico reports: Trump accuses Biden of plagiarizing his economic proposals.

    It's Politico, of course, so there's paragraphs devoted to "but, no, they're way different."

URLs du Jour

2020-07-11

  • David Harsanyi warns: Here Come the Speech Police.

    Recently, I ran across a piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer that lays out four racist words and phrases that should be banished from the English language. It begins like this:

    “Editor’s note: Please be aware offensive terms are repeated here solely for the purpose of identifying and analyzing them honestly. These terms may upset some readers.”

    Steel yourself, brave reader, here they are:

    • Peanut gallery.
    • Eenie meenie miney moe.
    • Gyp.
    • No can do.

    OK, I kinda knew about the middle two, but had no idea about the first and last one.

    David goes on to note the actual purpose in all this pearl-clutching: "Attempting to dictate what words we use is another way to exert power over how we think."

    And I can't go for that. No can do.


  • As a WSJ editorialist notes, there's a brand of hate speech that is A-OK with the people who pretend to be against hate speech: Hating Clarence Thomas.

    Even by Twitter standards, the response to Thursday’s two Supreme Court decisions on President Trump’s tax records was revealing. For much of the day, Clarence Thomas was “trending,” as they say, and not in a nice way.

    The reason for the Twitter fury appears to be Justice Thomas’s dissents (along with those of Justice Samuel Alito) in Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars. Both cases dealt with efforts—one by Manhattan’s district attorney, the other by Congress—to gain access to Mr. Trump’s personal tax and business records. […]

    Many critics limited themselves to expletives, but many featured an ugly focus on his race. “Clarence Thomas believes he’s still a slave, and he’s fine with it,” ran one. Another declared, “Uncle Tom was a real Clarence Thomas.”

    Others focused on his interracial marriage. A self-described Ivy Leaguer cited Justice Thomas’s originalist legal principles to imply he’s a hypocrite because “the laws in 1776 did not allow a Black man to get an education, become a lawyer or marry a White woman.” One tweet that now seems to have been deleted along with the account was this: “Clarence Thomas—the one black life that doesn’t matter.”

    The progressive definition of "hate speech" specifically allows hating conservatives and libertarians.


  • Reason goes back into time for a history lesson: The Stolen Land Under Dodger Stadium. And until our lame 2020 baseball season gets underway, you'll have to make do with…

    On July 24, 1950, the city of Los Angeles sent a letter to the residents of the Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop neighborhoods. Their homes would soon be purchased by the city, and their neighborhoods, which would come to be known collectively as Chavez Ravine, would be demolished to make room for a public housing project. This was made possible by the expanded eminent domain powers provided to municipal housing authorities by the Federal Housing Act of 1949.

    While the city's housing authority cajoled the area's residents—predominately Mexican-American, largely poor and working-class—into selling their homes for prices well below market value, the political winds in Los Angeles shifted against public housing, leading to a 1952 citywide referendum banning such projects. But the Los Angeles Housing Authority still controlled the future of Chavez Ravine; soon, many civic leaders became convinced the area would be a good place for a professional baseball team.

    I was out in Pasadena for nearly four full years, and I never once got to Dodger Stadium. The Rose Bowl, either.


  • [Amazon Link]
    And finally some language thoughts from Kevin D. Williamson about Capitalizing 'Black': Good Manners & Media Conventions.

    In explaining its adopting the trendy new racial convention — capital-B “Black” and lowercase-w “white” — the New York Times explains that “white doesn’t represent a shared culture and history in the way Black does.”

    That is not true, of course.

    If it were true, then to what would the word “white” in “white supremacy” refer? If there were no such thing as a “white” cultural group, then would be no such thing as “white supremacy,” either. But, of course, there is such a thing as a shared white culture — that’s why jokes about white people are funny, which they wouldn’t be if the word “white” simply described skin tone. But the Times must have some plausible rationale rather than telling the truth, which is that it is capitalizing Black because the people whose opinions matter to the editors of the Times wish it. They aren’t wrong to wish it, and the Times isn’t necessarily wrong to accommodate the wish.

    It's complicated: "Uppercase Black alongside lowercase white looks jarring and affected, but uppercase White looks creepy, a kind of armband in print."

    I like Thomas Sowell's solution: Pink and Brown People.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-10

  • At National Review, Jim Geraghty has a good quote from Frederick deBoer on that Harpers letter and the dishonest criticisms it drew.

    Think for a minute and consider: what does it say when a completely generic endorsement of free speech and open debate is in and of itself immediately diagnosed as anti-progressive, as anti-left? There is literally no specific instance discussed in that open letter, no real-world incident about which there might be specific and tangible controversy. So how can someone object to an endorsement of free speech and open debate without being opposed to those things in and of themselves? You can’t. And people are objecting to it because social justice politics are plainly opposed to free speech. That is the most obvious political fact imaginable today. Of course Yelling Woke Twitter hates free speech! Of course social justice liberals would prevent expression they disagree with if they could! How could any honest person observe our political discourse for any length of time and come to any other conclusion?

    Can we just proceed by acknowledging what literally everyone quietly knows, which is that the dominant majority of progressive people simply don’t believe in the value of free speech anymore? Please. Let’s grow up and speak plainly, please. Let’s just grow up.

    That's a bit of Mr. deBoer's entire article. Which I would ordinarily just link to, but Geraghty's worth reading on his other topics too.

    The Amazon page for an upcoming book by by Mr. deBoer calls him a "leftist firebrand". But he seems honest, which seems to be an ever-shrinking brand these days.


  • More on the backlash against one of the Harpers letter signers from Jerry Coyne: The Purity Posse pursues Pinker.

    The Woke are after Pinker again, and if he’s called a racist and misogynist, as he is in this latest attempt to demonize him, then nobody is safe. After all, Pinker is a liberal Democrat who’s donated a lot of dosh to the Democratic Party, and relentlessly preaches a message of moral, material, and “well-being” progress that’s been attained through reason and adherence to Enlightenment values. But that sermon alone is enough to render him an Unperson, for the Woke prize narrative and “lived experience” over data, denigrate reason, and absolutely despise the Enlightenment.

    The link to the document in question, “Open Letter to the Linguistic Society of America,”  was tweeted yesterday by Pinker’s fellow linguist John McWhorter, who clearly dislikes the letter. And, indeed, the letter is worthy of Stalinism in its distortion of the facts in trying to damage the career of an opponent. At least they don’t call for Pinker to be shot in the cellars of the Lubyanka!

    Coyne does a point-by-point rebuttal of that letter. Really, the only interesting thing to discuss is whether today's "Purity Posse" is more Stalinist or Maoist?

    Also on that topic: Jonathan Turley.


  • Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek had a Bonus Quotation of the Day... from Deirdre McCloskey:

    And the tale of expert social engineering is unbelievable, really. It cannot answer the simplest folk skepticism: If You’re So Smart, what ain’t you rich?

    Something to keep in mind when (for example) Joe Biden, who has never run anything even as complicated as a McDonalds, promises to transform the nation.


  • At Politico, Rich Lowry offers his lonely, but correct, opinion: Mark Zuckerberg is Right.

    Mark Zuckerberg clearly hasn’t gotten the memo.

    The founder of Facebook persists in defending free expression, even though free speech has fallen decidedly out of fashion.

    His reward for adhering to what once would have been a commonsensical, if not banal, view of the value of the free exchange of ideas is to get vilified for running a hate-speech machine and to get boycotted by major American companies.

    As a mild Facebook user, I'm amazed how Zuck is unable to resist flinging that McCloskey taunt at his critics: "If You’re So Smart, what ain’t you rich?".

    Or: "Set up your own site, genius."


  • And a bit of New Hampshire pride quoted by Inside Sources: New Hampshire Taxpayers Get Best Deal in U.S..

    That’s according to a new study released by WalletHub ranking states on whether their taxpayers “get the most or least bang for their buck.” Their analysts break down government services into five categories: education, health, safety, economy, and infrastructure & pollution.

    Their findings: Nowhere else in the country will taxpayers get more for their money than the Granite State. They also found the percentage of the state’s residents in poverty is the lowest in the nation.

    “New Hampshire has the best taxpayer ROI because its residents pay the second-lowest taxes per capita, and benefit from quality government services,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez told NHJournal. “More specifically, the state’s school system is among the best, and there is a low share of idle youth — just 8 percent.”

    They hate us 'cause they ain't us. Which brings us to …


  • … a slagging in the Financial Times, which set off the Google LFOD News Alert: Americans want to be free to be stupid. The writer, Elizabeth Cobbs, is billed as a "history professor at Texas A&M University and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution." She's down on Americans generally, but those in one state specifically:

    Stiff-necked resistance to authority is not limited to western or southern states. New Hampshire, one of the original 13 colonies, remains the epitome of what Turner called Americans’ “antipathy to control”. The state motto, “Live Free or Die”, helps explain why it is the only US state without an adult seatbelt law and one of only three that do not require motorcyclists to wear helmets.

    Et Tu, Hoover Institution?

    Anyway, Elizabeth remains befuddled by even the suggestion that the NH motto implies that the state shouldn't be making risk decisions for adults. Nope, she goes immediately for "stupid".

    That link, by the way, goes to a description of the Randolph accident from last year, which killed seven motocyclists. Even after Googling, I haven't seen any authoritative source claiming whether or not any of the dead or injured were wearing helmets. Given the horrific details, I suspect helmets might not have made much difference one way or the other.


Last Modified 2020-07-11 3:35 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-07-09

Mr. Ramirez comments on recent news:

[Morona]

Yup, you have to look hard, but he got the pig socks too. (Compare original here.)

  • I'm having trouble treating this article as anything other than good news. Victor Davis Hanson at the Daily Signal: Universities Sowing the Seeds of Their Own Obsolescence.

    The current chaos has posed existential questions of fairness and transparency that the university cannot answer because to do so would reveal utter hypocrisy.

    Instead, the university’s defense has been to virtue signal left-wing social activism to hide or protect its traditional self-interested mode of profitable business for everyone–staff, faculty, administration, contractors–except the students who borrow to pay for a lot of it.

    How strange that higher education’s monotonous embrace of virtue signaling, political proselytizing, and loud social justice activism is now sowing the seeds of its own obsolescence and replacement.

    Unfortunately (as VDH notes) our "higher education system" has produced "a generation that is poorly educated and yet petulant and self-assured without justification." Once they've knocked down the universities, how likely is it that they'll come up with anything better?


  • A (related) modest proposal from David Harsanyi at National Review: Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System.

    ‘Public' schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever.

    State-run schools have undercut two fundamental conditions of a healthy tolerant society. First, they’ve created millions of civic illiterates who are disconnected from long-held communal values and national identity. Second, they’ve exacerbated the very inequalities that trigger the tearing apart of fissures.

    If you’re interested in ferreting out “systemic racism,” go to a big-city public-school system. No institution has fought harder to preserve segregated communities than the average teachers’ union. And I don’t mean only in the schools.

    Congratulations to David on coming up with a solution more radical than mine. Which is: abolish mandatory attendance laws. Kind of the ultimate in "school choice".

    This might destroy some "public" schools, true. But I think it would have a disparate impact on those that only exist because kids are forced to attend.


  • At Reason, Veronique de Rugy asks the musical question: Has the U.S. Government Finally Spent Too Much?. A neat summary:

    Looking at the spending that had passed as of early May, Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute predicted that the budget deficit would be $4.28 trillion in 2020 and $2.19 trillion in 2021. This year's deficit is estimated at 19.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), nearly double the peak deficits during the Great Recession and second only to the deficits during World War II. Over 10 years, that spending is projected to add nearly $8 trillion to the national debt, pushing the debt held by the public to $41 trillion, or 128 percent of the annual GDP, within a decade. This debt-to-GDP ratio will exceed even that at the height of World War II. Moreover, the national debt came down after that war ended—but continued Social Security and Medicare shortfalls will keep the current debt rising indefinitely.

    You can find Brian Reidl's analysis here in Detroit.


  • You've heard a lot about the "right to privacy". For example, SCOTUS has decided it grants you the right to an abortion. But it doesn't give you the right to avoid giving government details of your financial transactions. Funny.

    Well, Jim Harper thinks a lot about it. And at AEI, he urges: Don’t ‘democratize’ privacy.

    In 1980, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development described the expansive course that the concept of privacy had taken up to that point. “Generally speaking, there has been a tendency to broaden the traditional concept of privacy (‘the right to be left alone’) and to identify a more complex synthesis of interests which can perhaps more correctly be termed privacy and individual liberties.” Today, there’s even more to privacy than that. It seems as if any maltreatment of people online can be described as a “privacy” concern. We might want to rein it in.

    There’s a touch of the Streisand Effect in the fact that I learned about a new, minor internet star — gas station girl? — through a Twitter thread lamenting her poor treatment. In a video making the rounds, a young woman is seen repeatedly moving her car among gas pumps, failing each time to orient her car so that her gas tank is next to the pump. (It’s step one in filling up your gas tank.)

    Jim links to his longer AEI report that makes a careful near-philosophical dissection of the concept of "privacy". You'll be forever wary of people using the term sloppily. (Which, compared to Jim Harper, is pretty much everyone.)


  • Blowing up over the past few days:

    1. a group letter signed by a lot of old-fashioned liberals in favor of free speech. Followed by
    2. Well, let Matt Welch tell you at Reason: Lefties Hate on Liberal Open Letter on Free Speech.

    "The letter…is about Open Debate only to the extent that people who make very healthy salaries arguing in public for a living seem to have a bizarre aversion to being argued against," spat Gawker alum Hamilton Nolan at In These Times (other choice Nolan adjectives included "pathetic," and "almost intolerably exasperating"). "We have entered a brave new world in which those waving the banner of 'Free Speech' accuse their opponents of being unable to take criticism while waging a histrionic campaign against anyone who dares to criticize them."

    It takes a certain willfulness to ignore the plain words of a statement that's all of three paragraphs long, but judging by the reactions on Twitter, Nolan's pampered-crybabies-whining-about-criticism take was as common as goose turds by a pond. Yes, there are people on the list who are probably agitated at having been the target of public shaming campaigns—the Linguistic Society of America went after Pinker just this month, and Lord knows Rowling has had quite the 2020 arguing with transgender rights activists.

    You'll miss free speech when it's gone.


  • And I suspect this is related news. It would explain a lot: Officials confirm rare case of brain-eating amoeba in Florida.

    The Florida Department of Health (DOH) confirmed that one person was infected by a brain-eating amoeba in the Tampa area, just before the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The unidentified individual contracted naegleria fowleri, which is a single-cell amoeba that can produce a rare but often fatal infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), according to the department. 

    Now they mean really rare. 145 "known infected individuals" since 1962.

    But only four of them survived.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-08

Pigeon. In a hole. Get it?

  • At Heterodox Academy, Irshad Manji says: Fragility Is Not the Answer. Honest Diversity Is. He reminisces about a debate that didn't come off with Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility. (That's the book that Matt Taibbi said "makes The Art of the Deal read like Anna Karenina.")

    Take the central claim of her book: that white people’s entitlement to feeling comfortable makes them defensive, even hostile, when conversations about race need to be had. No doubt, many white people fit that bill. However, it is not because they are white. It is because they are human.

    I speak from personal experience. In the wake of 9/11, I toured the world to promote liberal reform in my faith of Islam. Before audiences of my fellow Muslims, I argued that the time had come to update our religious interpretations for a pluralistic 21st century. I also explained that Islam has its own tradition of independent thinking. As people of faith, we could rediscover that glorious tradition instead of turning to outside influences.

    The “Muslim fragility” that I witnessed pained me. Most of my co-religionists did not want to hear about the need to change ourselves. Despite backing up my case with passages from the Qur’an, I was met mostly with denial, consternation, condemnation, and, on occasion, violent threats.

    Manji makes an eloquent appeal for "honest diversity". Which "starts with the desire for varied perspectives and rectifies representation to fulfill that desire."

    Which is quite different than pigeonholing people by their DNA.


  • Quillette hosts Lawrence M. Krauss's thoughts: Racism Is Real. But Science Isn’t the Problem.

    In his June 9th eulogy for George Floyd, Reverend Al Sharpton said, “What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life.” The metaphor goes to the suffocation of hopes, dreams, and basic rights among many black Americans, in part because of inequities in American society, and in part because of direct experiences with racism.

    Several days later, the American Physical Society (APS), which claims to represent 55,000 physicists working in the United States and abroad, quoted Sharpton’s statement in announcing its solidarity with the “#strike4blacklives” campaign. The group declared that “physics is not an exception” to the suffocating climate of racism that Sharpton described; and that the APS would be closed for regularly scheduled business on June 10th, so as “to stand in support and solidarity with the Black community and to commit to eradicating systemic racism and discrimination, especially in academia, and science.” And the APS wasn’t alone. The strike was embraced by many scientific groups, national laboratories and universities. Throughout scientific disciplines, combating systemic racism has become a rallying cry.

    It sounds laudable. But as argued below, mantras about systemic racism are hard to square with the principles and necessary protocols of academic science. And in any case, overhauling university hiring and promotion aren’t the way to address the fundamental underlying causes of racism in our society. The APS and other scientific organizations have adopted dramatic anti-racist posturing in sudden response to George Floyd’s homicide and the protests that followed. But in so doing, they risk unwittingly demeaning science and scientists, as well as trivializing the broader and more vicious impacts of real racism in our society.

    I used to be an APS member, back when I had delusions of being a physicist. Glad I'm long gone.


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith is Imagining John Roberts Explaining Himself.

    Ever since I was a little boy, the other boys never called me “John” or “Johnny” or even “Roberts.” It was always “John Roberts.” The words would always run together, so in essence my name, to one and all, was “JohnRoberts.” “JohnRoberts, did you hear wrestling practice was canceled?” “JohnRoberts, Father Reilly said he wants to see you after Mass.” “JohnRoberts, do you want to go to the Dairy Queen for a root beer?” (Root was the only kind of beer I drank.) I did consider it a little strange when my own father started calling me “JohnRoberts,” but I didn’t mind. It was simply a gesture of respect for my immense propriety. I wanted to impress my elders with my rectitude, and I think I did.

    I impressed the other students too. I know I was not seen the way the other boys were. People didn’t ask me, “Hey, JohnRoberts, want to go get high and see Gimme Shelter?” More often they would ask me for my opinion about cross-comparing the various options in life-insurance annuities or what model sedan I considered the most decorous and respectable. (Buick. Always Buick.) Often a group of boys would approach me, and one boy in the group would ask me these kinds of questions while his friends stood around, snickering at some private joke to which I was not privy. In retrospect, I suppose these were strange questions to ask a high schooler, but then again, it was my practice to wear long, black silken robes everywhere I went, just to be prepared for my future. I guess you could say young Kavanaugh did enough youthful hijinks for the both of us. He once told me he went to see Porky’s when he was only 16 and a half! Can you imagine? He’s a card, that boy.

    It's pretty funny. Although JohnRoberts might not think so.


  • Billy Binion at Reason notes one of the many strange features of our modern times: In 2020, Words Are ‘Violence,’ Arson Is Not.

    There's a righteous anger driving protests against police brutality in the U.S. But an effort on the left to radically redefine "violence" threatens to alienate people who are attached to a more conventional understanding of that word and trivializes the very real reasons why they're protesting. A demonstration that hinges on an anti-violence orthodoxy needs to employ a coherent definition of their central tenet, should they not want to undermine their own movement.

    The leftist case for redefining "violence" relies on two main arguments: damaging a person is morally more serious than damaging an object, and psychologically damaging a person is worse than physically damaging an object.

    Nobody seems to care about the psychological damage they're inflicting on me with their moldy cant.


  • And Ennio Morricone passed away. Which makes me want to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly one more time. (Yes, of course I have the DVD.)

    At Language Log, Heidi Harley makes a point about the Accidental filmic poetry contained in the title:

    In English, "the Adj" generally only allows a generic reading, and often refers to the class of humans characterized by the adjective, as in the poor, the rich, etc. In Italian (and French, Spanish, etc.) this isn't the case; the construction, although based on the same syntax, can also receive a particular referential singular interpretation. Borer and Roy ascribe this to the presence of identifying number and gender features on the determiner in those languages.

    In the original Italian title of the movie, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ('The good.masc.sg, The ugly.masc.sg, the bad.masc.sg.) these 'The-Adj' sequences are referential; they refer to the three main characters Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco. The Italian title is more or less equivalent to English "The good guy, the bad guy and the ugly guy". 

    In English, though, the grammatical structure of the title can only get the generic reading. The use of these forms in the film to refer to three protagonists, then, bestows an archetypal quality on those characters; they're metonymically interpreted as instantiating the whole classes of good people, bad people and ugly people respectively. And the kind of mythic force it imparts somehow fits so perfectly with the grandiose yet tongue-in-cheek quality of the whole film, to me it's really a fundamental part of its impact, humor and appeal.

    So the English title actually works better than the original Italian, despite the literal translation. Heidi (I call her Heidi) wonders if that possibly could have been intentional.

After the Storm

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

An arty Japanese movie, undubbed. Not for those who don't like reading subtitles, therefore. But it's pretty OK.

The protagonist is Ryôta, who's kind of a mess. He used to be a novelist, publishing his first book to critical acclaim, but didn't manage to follow up. He's now a private investigator, and not an honorable one: when he gets the goods on a cheating wife, he and his partner offer to keep the news from their client, her husband, for a price. Sleazy!

He's also divorced, with a cute son. And due to a nasty gambling habit, he's behind on his child support payments.

(Did you know that in Japan, they bet on bicycle races? Neither did I. But don't worry, Ryôta also buys lottery tickets, a more American tax on irrational innumeracy.)

There's also a meddling (but very sweet and funny) mother. And an impending typhoon.

It's a pretty good movie to remind us of a couple things: first: Japan is wonderfully weird. But second: not that weird; everyone here operates with emotions and motivations and foibles that are instantly recognizable to any red-blooded American. That's sort of comforting in these "diverse" times.

The Price We Pay

What Broke American Health Care--and How to Fix It

[Amazon Link]

I was tempted into getting this book via the author's appearance on Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast back in Februrary. (I would have gotten to it before now, except for the Portsmouth Public Library's extended Covid-19 shutdown.)

Marty Makary, a doctor affiliated with Johns Hopkins, describes various ways that "we" (as taxpayers, health insurance customers, and/or patients) are being gouged by the health care system.

  • Some hospitals have "list prices" for their services that are stratospherically higher than normal; not only do they gouge, they go after slow-payers aggressively with collection agencies and garnishments.
  • "Health Fairs" that are setups to steer unwary attendees toward expensive and unnecessary services.
  • Surprise billing for participants in your care who are "out-of-network".
  • Ground and air ambulance services are notorious overchargers.
  • Some OB-GYNs aggressively seek out women in labor and persuade them to get unnecessary (but lucrative) cesareans.
  • Doctors (through greed or ignorance) gravitate toward more expensive procedures, out of whack with prevailing practices in their fields.
  • Doctors overprescribe, especially opioids. Probably that's less of a problem these days. But Makary admits do doing it himself, out of ignorance.
  • Middlemen, like pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and "group purchasing organizations" (GPOs) can skim, and sometimes a lot more than "skim".

And I got tired of typing, so I'll stop there.

Makary's style is informal, first person, often reporting in detail about his research interviews ("I landed at the Omaha airport and immediately saw a big Omaha Steaks shop in the airport terminal.") Hence, the book is largely anecdotal. That has pluses and minuses. Plus: the stories are grabby and rage-inducing. Minus: there's not a lot of quantitative data. For example, he (sensibly) thinks kickbacks from pharmaceutical manufacturers to PBMs should be banned; but how much would that save? Big problem, medium, or tiny?

Markary is also kind of weak (imho) on the promise made in his subtitle: how to fix it. The basic problem (to which he alludes over and over) is that health care doesn't work like a market. To a first approximation, the reason is pretty simple: someone else is paying, not the consumer. Consumers are insulated from the gory details, and so why should they care about the vast sums flying around that they never see?

Of course, they're paying. Sort of. Through paycheck deductions, mostly. But they have little control over that.

But Markary doesn't go so far as to advocate radical free-market reforms. And I don't think he even touches the over-regulation and over-licensing in the field.

My deep thought about why market reforms aren't coming to health care: we don't want them.

Markets are wondrous mechanisms, but there's one nasty fact: they will provide some things you can't afford.

We don't worry about that in most areas. Can't afford filet mignon? Fine, I'll grab the sirloin on sale. Can't get a Tesla? Honda Civic, baby. No problem.

But with health care, we want the best. We are entitled to the best. And if we can't have the best, then our inner egalitarian takes over: if I can't have it, then nobody else should have it either.

That's ugly, but very understandable. And that's why we can't have nice things.

ADDED slightly later: Markary blames doctor overprescription for the increase in opioid overdose deaths. I don't buy that. See, for example here.


Last Modified 2020-07-08 10:57 AM EDT

Parasites

A Mini-Fisking

The Google LFOD News Alert rang for this piece at a site called "GoLocalProv", by which they mean Providence, Rhode Island. It's a (very long) column by (apparently) a regular columnist, Robert Whitcomb.

I was sufficiently irritated to break out the old fisking template. I am reproducing the relevant section of Bob's op-ed here, on the (appropriate) left, with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my comments are on the right.

Bob (I call him Bob) gets right into it after a few literary quotes that bear little relevance to this topic:

As it turns out, many perhaps most, of those fireworks that have ruined life recently for many people in Providence, Boston and other New England cities […]

Wait a minute. Fireworks ruined life for many people?

I'm not unsympathetic. Personally, I experience rapidly decreasing marginal utility for most things that explode prettily or loudly. After a dozen or so: "Eh, more of the same. Could we get to the finale, please?"

But that's pretty far from a ruined life. I suspect something about people whose lives are ruined by fireworks: That in the absence of fireworks, their lives would quickly be ruined by something else. Barking dogs, loud motorcycles, inconsiderate littering, MAGA hats, Gadsden flags, …

[OK: A Providence TV station reported on July 5 that extensive fire damage to a house in Providence may have been due to fireworks. They were able to find neighbors speculating about that, anyway. Still, kind of a stretch to "ruined life" for "many people"]

Anyway, Bob knows who to blame. He points his shaky finger roughly a hundred miles north:

[…] came from New Hampshire, that old “Live Free or Die” parasite/paradise (where I lived for four years). There, out-of-state noisemakers stock up and take the explosives back to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, where they ignite them all over the place, with the worst impact in cities. While the fireworks are illegal in densely populated southern New England, they’re legal in the Granite State.

Parasite!? That's pretty nasty, Bob.

As Wikipedia will tell you, it's a slur with a long and sordid history. Both Commies and Nazis were fond of deploying it against broad classes of people, with predictable results. The left-wing anthem The Internationale contains a few references (e.g., "All the power to the people of labour! And away with all the parasites!") At the Library of Social Science, Richard Koenigsberg collects a few choice quotes from the remarkably similar-sounding Hitler and Lenin.

Anyway, Bob's gripes are not directed at the scofflaws in southern New England. Nor with its inability/unwillingness to enforce such laws ("No fireworks arrests made in Providence on Fourth of July").

Nope, it's those damn New Hampshire Parasites.

New Hampshire has long made money off out-of-staters coming to buy cheap (because of the state’s very tax-averse policies) booze and cigarettes. The state also has loose gun laws. Fireworks are in this tradition.

Translation: "People chafe under government-mandated high prices and arbitrary prohibitions, and New Hampshire offers bargains and (some) freedom."

That’s its right. But it could be a tad more humane toward people in adjacent states by making it clear to buyers at New Hampshire fireworks stores that the explosives they’re buying there are illegal in southern New England.

Translation: "Could you please help us enforce our stupid laws by nagging your customers?"

Because of our federal system, states that may want to control the use of dangerous products can be hard-pressed to do so because residents may find it easy to drive to a nearby state and get the stuff. Still, in compact and generally collaborative New England, it would be nice if New Hampshire, much of which is exurban and rural, would consider the challenges of heavily urbanized Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut as they seek to limit the use of fireworks, especially in cities. Granite Staters might remember that much of the state’s affluence stems from its proximity to that great wealth creator Greater Boston and show a little gratitude. (This reminds me of how Red States are heavily subsidized by Blue States, whose taxes fund much of the federal programs in the former.)

In addition to the above, a couple things are worth pointing out:

  1. New Hampshire's poverty rate is the smallest in the nation according to the latest tabulation. The "great wealth creator" to our south is number 8. Rhode Island, on the other hand, is unaccountably unaffected by its proximity to Massachusetts: it's in 28th place.
  2. The "Red States are heavily subsidized by Blue States" is tendentious garbage. Debunkings here and here.

And then it gets worse…

Ah, the federal system, one of whose flaws is painfully visible in the COVID-19 pandemic. Look at how the Red States, at the urging of the Oval Office Mobster, too quickly opened up, leading to an explosion of cases, which in turn hurts the states that had been much tougher and more responsible about imposing early controls. But yes, the federal system’s benign side includes that states can experiment with new programs and ways of governance, some of which may become national models, acting as Justice Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy’’.

Yay, Federalism. Fine, me too. But I'm not sure Rhode Island has a lot to brag about, given its high position on the state ranking by COVID-19 death rate. If states are democracy labs, RI done botched its experiment.

There's more to Bob's column. He bemoans the recent SCOTUS decision on non-discriminatory aid to parents who choose to send their kids to religious schools under the heading "Church-State Walls Erode".

But amusingly, he does that just after trashing the town of Burrillville, RI, which declared itself a “First Amendment Sanctuary Town.” Burrillville's crime: daring to specifically oppose the state's "cumbersome restrictions on places of worship".

For Bob, that Church-State Wall becomes pretty porous when it comes to State imposing its will on Churches.

The Limehouse Golem

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So I thought a golem was some sort of Yiddish-legend Frankenstein-monster. Check Wikipedia… yeah, that's pretty much right.

So I'm not sure where this movie's title came from. There's no indication that anyone here is Jewish, and the movie's "Golem" is just a plain old serial killer, not a supernatural claymation monster.

Unless they explained this in one of the stretches where I was asleep. I can't say that's unlikely. I dozed off pretty solidly for awhile there. Not enough to deter me from counting this movie as "seen in 2020", though.

Uh, the plot: in Victorian-era London the Golem is killing people, but there's also the gruesome poisoning of John Cree, husband of Elizabeth. Suspicion naturally falls upon her, and she finds herself on whatever it is they called Death Row back there and then. But Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) finds evidence possibly linking John Cree to the Golem murders! And did I mention that Elizabeth is a music-hall singer with aspirations, John a struggling playwright?

It's pretty convoluted, perverse, and unbelievable. Karl Marx apparently has a cameo, but I slept through it.

URLs du Jour

2020-07-06

[Amazon Link]

  • Steve Hanke and Richard M. Ebeling have a National Review article in honor of Thomas Sowell hitting the big nine-zero (NRPLUS, sorry). An utter travesty is left until the final paragraph. After relating and summarizing Sowell's work on cultural, geographic, and racial disparities and differences over the years:

    Sowell’s tracing of these past differences brings us back to today. On June 5, the American Economic Association (AEA), the premier professional association for economists since its founding in 1885, issued a statement saying that it was time for officers and governance committees within the association to look into racism and racist practices and presumptions within the profession. To that end, the AEA compiled a recommended reading list on race and discrimination. Sowell is nowhere to be found on it. Neither is the late Gary Becker, former president of the AEA, who won a Nobel prize in 1992 for, among other achievements, his pathbreaking work on the economics of discrimination. This is the blinkered world we live in today.

    Another professional society hopelessly in thrall to the woke mob. At least for now. Until the folks in charge start answering the question posed in the title of our Amazon Product du Jour in the negative.


  • [Amazon Link]
    At the Library of Economics and Liberty, Alberto Mingardi offers an anecdote about The Anticapitalist Mentality. Quoting from a recent book (Amazon link at right):

    On 14 April 1912, Benjamin Guggenheim, Solomon’s younger brother, found himself on board the Titanic, and, as the ship started sinking, he was one of those who helped women and children onto the lifeboats, withstanding the frenzy, and at times the brutality, of other male passengers. Then, when his steward was ordered to man one of the boats, Guggenheim took his leave, and asked him to tell his wife that ‘no woman was left on board because Ben Guggenheim was a coward’. And that was it. His words may have been a little less resonant, but it really doesn’t matter; he did the right, very difficult thing to do. And so, when a researcher for Cameron’s 1997 Titanic unearthed the anecdote, he immediately brought it to the scriptwriters’ attention: what a scene. But he was flatly turned down: too unrealistic. The rich don’t die for abstract principles like cowardice and the like. And indeed, the film’s vaguely Guggenheim-like figure tries to force his way onto a lifeboat with a gun.

    Ah, well, it was still a good movie. Just filter out the anticapitalism.


  • At Quillette, Peter Toshev reports On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry.

    Steve Hsu, Professor of Theoretical Physics and, until June 19th, 2020, Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation at Michigan State University (MSU) is the latest high-profile sacking. Hsu is not accused of a discriminatory act while carrying out his administrative responsibilities, such as faculty promotions or recruitment. He reports that he has not received any such allegation during his eight years as SVP. Instead, he is accused of holding—and of supporting others who hold—racist, eugenicist, and sexist views pertaining to intelligence. His accusers are Kevin Bird, president of MSU’s Graduate Employees Union (GEU), the GEU itself, and a list of signatories—including many college professors—to a petition addressed to MSU President Samuel Stanley demanding Hsu’s removal from the SVP post. The accusations, and the evidence that supposedly supports them, were shared on June 10th in a series of tweets hashtagged into the #ShutDownAcademia #ShutDownSTEM initiative.

    In a blogpost published on June 12th, Hsu forcefully rejected the accusations and methodically addressed the mischaracterizations that informed them. A counter-petition was circulated, which attracted an even longer list of signatories than Bird’s, and which also included many university professors. This too was sent to President Stanley, rejecting the claims made by the GEU and defending Hsu’s role as SVP. The president also received personal letters in support of Hsu from noted figures such as Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, who wrote “I am writing to urge you not to surrender to an outrage mob by removing Professor Steve Hsu from his Vice President position at MSU. Professor Hsu has discussed ideas that are controversial, but they are not malignant, and he has supported them with citations from the scientific literature.”

    Yet another shameless and spineless capitulation by "higher education" administration.


  • At the Josiah Bartlett Center, Drew Cline confirms that I interpreted a recent judicial decision correctly (always an iffy proposition): N.H.'s tax credit scholarships must include religious schools, U.S. Supreme Court confirms.

    The June 30th U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue demolishes once and for all the false claim that New Hampshire’s Education Tax Credit Program violates the New Hampshire and U.S. Constitutions. 

    Further, the ruling renders inoperative New Hampshire’s anti-Catholic Blaine amendment, added to the state constitution in 1877. 

    “While the plain text and history of New Hampshire’s Blaine Amendment should not have been an impediment to enacting robust school choice programs prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Espinoza, there is now no question that legislators and policymakers in the Live Free or Die state are free to design and enact programs that will empower parents to choose the educational environment that will best serve their children’s learning needs,” Tim Keller, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice and co-counsel in the Espinoza case, told the Bartlett Center.

    That's excellent news. However, the decision was 5-4. And it would only take a single Biden appointment to undo. (Have Supreme Count liberals ever been swayed by stare decisis considerations? Not to my knowledge, which I admit is not broad or deep.)


  • And, due to a paywall, I wasn't able to read too much of this Telegraph [UK] article by Sarah Kennedy, which purports to explain Why Ghislaine Maxwell chose New Hampshire. But it set off the Google LFOD News Alert.

    The subhed: "Dense forests and difficult access from few public roads make it easy to get off radar in the place whose motto is ‘Live Free or Die'".

    Ghislaine Maxwell could not have chosen a better spot than Bradford, New Hampshire for the hidden location of her house Tuckedaway. Known as the ‘Granite State’ for the local psychology as much as the landscape, New Hampshire is a live- and-let-live place whose motto is ‘Live Free or Die’....

    Um.

    Bradford is only a few miles off Interstate 89, Sarah. It's remarkably easy to get to. It's pretty close to Lake Sunapee, one of the state's major tourist draws

    Now, apparently, Maxwell was holed up in a McMansion a few miles down the road from the town center. But still, I think she would have had an easier time staying out of site in Oakland, Iowa.

The Phony Campaign

2020-07-05 Update

The election betting markets gave Trump a little more love over the week, bumping his win-probability up by a whopping 0.2 percentage points.

And they also gave Biden a little more love than that: his win-probability improved by 0.3 percentage points.

Which means that, marginally, the "smart" money says that America is likely to be stuck with one or the other of these lying phony narcissistic weasels men come January 2021.

But Trump widened his lead over Biden in the only poll that really counts: Google phony hit counts.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
6/28
Phony
Results
Change
Since
6/28
Donald Trump 38.3% +0.2% 1,810,000 +110,000
Joe Biden 57.1% +0.3% 473,000 -31,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Jeffrey A. Tucker explains it at AIER: Why Election Markets are Betting Against Trump.

    The betting markets judge Trump’s prospects for keeping the presidency with more negativity each day. As of this writing, there is a 24-point gap between Trump and Biden. It seems unbelievable that it shows confidence in Biden; rather it is likely a measure of how Trump’s glamour and glitz are fading. 

    You can dismiss this. You can also disregard the many reports that Trump is demoralized and considering dropping out of the race. Maybe he will pull a rabbit out of the hat. Maybe the polls are wrong again, and the betting odds also. Maybe. But actually, based on what I can read from his Twitter feed, I suspect that Peggy Noonan is correct:

    How a lot of Trump supporters feel about the president has changed. The real picture at the Tulsa rally was not the empty seats so much as the empty faces—the bored looks, the yawning and phone checking, as if everyone was re-enacting something, hearing some old song and trying to remember how it felt a few years ago, when you heard it the first time.

    Tucker's article contains a snapshot of the Real Clear Politics Betting Odds historical graph which I recommend if you're interested in these things; RCP appears to sample more betting sites than does the Lott/Stossel Election Betting Odds site, but the actual odds, nevertheless, seem to be about the same.

    He helpfully annotates the chart with explanatory milestones, and attributes Trump's erosion to his embrace of statist rhetoric and bogus epidemiological modeling, with the aiieee-we're-all-gonna-die lockdowns.

    It's a story. Might be so.

    Or things might have been even worse for Trump if he'd embraced Tucker's libertarian advice. I don't think the country's generally in the mood for libertarian advice. It seems more devoted than ever to finger-pointing, scapegoating, and close-mindedness.


  • And then there's "journalism". Instapundit points out a Courtney Shadegg tweet:

    (And Instapundit has more examples.)

    I didn't watch Trump's speech at Mount Rushmore, and why should I bother when "journalists" are right there willing to brand it as hate speech, which should probably be banned?


  • At Vanity Fair, Charlotte Klein engages in some utterly tiresome and predictable psychologizing, but … y'know what? Also pretty credible: Trump Only Wants to Be Reelected Because of His Giant Ego.

    It appears that President Donald Trump’s primary motivation to run for reelection—is to be reelected. Some of the president’s allies told The Daily Beast that Trump’s desire for a second term is largely driven by fears of being embarrassed. A former senior Trump administration official said that on multiple occasions, Trump said “he is determined not to be a one-termer, and says that history forever remembers them as ‘losers,’” sentiments that another source says Trump expressed in late 2018. The source, paraphrasing, remembered Trump citing former President Jimmy Carter “as an example of a modern political ‘loser,’ and how ‘you never want to be that guy,’” a legacy Trump is trying to avoid by cinching another four years.

    What Trump would actually do with another term, however, isn’t something the president seems totally sure about, based on a recent interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Trump was unable to name a single policy item when asked what his top goals would be if reelected, instead musing about “experience” and changing the subject to former national security adviser John Bolton, according to CNN. “I always say talent is more important than experience, I've always said that -- but the word experience is a very important word, a very important meaning," said Trump, noting that his time in office has made him familiar with Washington and the people there, which he said “wasn’t [his] thing” as a New Yorker. “Now I know everybody, and I have great people in the administration,” he said, though “you make some mistakes,” citing “an idiot like Bolton” to be among them.

    Both Jeff Jacoby and Clarence Page have compared Trump's response to Hannity's slo-pitch softball query to Teddy Kennedy's answer to a similar question from Roger Mudd back in 1979: “Why do you want to be president?”

    "Uhhhh…".


  • Kevin D. Williamson takes to the NYPost to observe: Barack Obama's failures left a weak VP field for Joe Biden.

    Biden’s old boss, Barack Obama, really thinned out his party: Democrats in 2009 had controlled 59 percent of state legislatures and 29 governor’s offices, but by the end of Obama’s presidency they were down to fewer than a third of state legislatures and a rump of 16 governorships, while 63 Democratic House seats went Republican after Obama’s first midterm. Democrats were reduced to a status they had not endured since Warren G. Harding was in the White House.

    Donald Trump has done a very fine job helping the Democrats to rebuild — a mad scientist in a laboratory couldn’t have created a more useful enemy — but their bench is still a little thin. Because Biden has been accused of creepy behavior, he’s promised to choose a woman as his vice-presidential pick, as though that would nullify his weirdness with women rather than highlight it. Because Biden is the author of an infamous crime bill very closely associated with mass incarceration — and very much objected to by Black Lives Matter and other left-wing activists, without whose support Biden will lose — he is under pressure to choose a woman who is not white.

    Which brings us to…


  • Aída Chávez writing at the Intercept, noting that Kamala Harris's Wikipedia Page Is Being Edited. Yes, she's a contender for Biden's VP. But:

    Presidential vetting operations have entire teams of investigators, but for the public, when the pick is announced, the most common source for information about the person chosen is Wikipedia. And there, a war has broken out over how to talk about Harris’s career. 

    At least one highly dedicated Wikipedia user has been scrubbing controversial aspects of Harris’s “tough-on-crime” record from her Wikipedia page, her decision not to prosecute Steve Mnuchin for mortgage fraud-related crimes, her strong support of prosecutors in Orange County who engaged in rampant misconduct, and other tidbits — such as her previous assertion that “it is not progressive to be soft on crime” — that could prove unflattering to Harris as the public first gets to know her on the national stage. The edits, according to the page history, have elicited strong pushback from Wikipedia’s volunteer editor brigade, and have drawn the page into controversy, though it’s a fight the pro-Harris editor is currently winning.   

    I often rely on Wikipedia, but this is a useful reminder that it's not that reliable on contentious issues. Stick to looking up stuff like Betteridge's law of headlines.

    Kamala does, however, strike me as the candidate most likely to have memorized the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Should she become VP, the talk on invoking Section 4 will start no later than January 21, 2021.


  • The NYPost reports on Biden's recent Q-and-A with the press corps: Joe Biden rips Trump, calls reporter a 'lying dog face'.

    Biden, who has been stuck at his Wilmington home during the pandemic, also took questions from reporters for the first time in months after the Trump campaign accused him of hiding.

    But the gaffe-prone former lawmaker lashed out when one reporter mentioned his own mental deterioration at age 65 and asked Biden if he had been tested for cognitive decline.

    “You’re a lying dog face,” Biden said, apparently irritated that the reporter kept asking questions as he tried to leave the event, before adding that he was “constantly tested.”

    Good luck finding this reported anywhere outside the right-wing press. But it brings us to…


  • In our "Who Could Blame Them" Department, the Federalist's Jonah Gottschalk reveals: Biden Campaign Refuses To Release Cognitive Test Results.

    Its been three days now since former Vice President Joe Biden told reporters that he’s been “tested and am constantly tested” for cognitive decline. The media has, unsurprisingly, swept this story under the rug, but the candidate’s claim still raises a lot of questions.

    Who’s been doing these assessments? Why are we only hearing about these “constant” tests after the cognitive question has plagued the campaign for well over a year? And most importantly, Biden never actually said what any of the results were. So what were they?

    I want—nay, demand—cognitive tests be given to both candidates, and those tests and their results should be broadcast live on C-SPAN. I'd watch, with plenty of popcorn nearby.

    And then a general test, covering civics, geography, history, basic science, etc. No math, though!


  • And just a reminder from Daniel J. Mitchell on what we have to look forward to under President Biden, House Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Cuomo: The Adverse Economic Consequences of Higher Tax Rates.

    The good news is that Joe Biden has not embraced many of Bernie Sanders’ worst tax ideas, such as imposing a wealth tax or hiking the top income tax rate to 52 percent..

    The bad news is that he nonetheless is supporting a wide range of punitive tax increases.

    • Increasing the top income tax rate to 39.6 percent.
    • Imposing a 12.4 percent payroll tax on wages above $400,000.
    • Increasing the double taxation of dividends and capital gains from 23.8 percent to 43.4 percent.
    • Hiking the corporate tax rate to 28 percent.
    • Increasing taxes on American companies competing in foreign markets.

    The worst news is that Nancy Pelosi, et al, may wind up enacting all these tax increases and then also add some of Crazy Bernie‘s proposals.

    This won’t be good for the U.S. economy and national competitiveness.

    Well, not for the first time, and not for the last, what Mencken said: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

    (And 11 other quotes at the link.)

URLs du Jour

2020-07-04

[Happy Fourth]

That is, of course, Michael Ramirez, who often manages to express my own thoughts more beautifully than I could.

  • At the Josiah Bartlett Center, Drew Cline tells us that It's OK to celebrate the United States of America. What a relief!

    Independence Day, 2020, will come without parades or fireworks shows in many communities. They are canceled for the coronavirus. Some Americans seem to want them canceled for good. They’re ashamed of the flag and the nation it represents.

    [PS: Like this guy.]

    Six years from America’s 250th birthday, her citizens should be preparing for the party to end all parties. Instead, many of us are questioning the idea that the country is worth celebrating at all.

    It is. Joyfully and unashamedly.

    In other news, Don Boudreaux's Quotation of the Day is from George F. Will's latest book:

    America was born with an epistemological assertion: The important political truths are not merely knowable, they are known. They are self-evident in that they are obvious to any mind not clouded by ignorance or superstition. It is, the Declaration says, self-evidently true that “all men are created equal” not only in their access to the important political truths, but also in being endowed with certain unalienable rights, including the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    And you might also want to read (or reread) What Calvin Coolidge Said About The Declaration of Independence.

    Less seriously, because why not, the Babylon Bee: Americans Excited To Celebrate Their Liberty While Confined To Their Homes By The Government.

    And Andrew Stiles has some tips: How to Celebrate July 4 Without Getting Canceled for Glorifying White Supremacy. Example:

    American Flags — Despite their common usage in July 4 celebrations, it is advisable to refrain from flying the American flag given its close association to the United States of America, a country founded on British colonialism, genocide, and tax evasion. If you must incorporate the stars and stripes into your festivities, consider adding a 51st star to show your support for D.C. statehood and the hundreds of disenfranchised journalists forced to reside there.

    All worth your attention!


  • And do you ever find yourself typing and need to fill in the blank: "America is the             country on Earth." Oh oh. Is it Freeest or freest?

    Well, the mavens at Language Log are academics, so of course they weren't talking about America. But still:

    I wrote this sentence: "Hong Kong was one of the freeest cities on earth". My automated spell checker flagged "freeest", so I changed it to "freest", and the spell checker let that stand. But in my mind I was still saying "free‧est", with two syllables, whereas when I see "freest", it's very hard for me to think of that as having two syllables. So how are we to pronounce the superlative degree of the adjective "free"?

    Bottom line: stick with "most free".

URLs du Jour

2020-07-03

  • I dump on Wired a lot. As a part of the Condé Nast family of publications, it can be tediously and predictably statist. Which is why I was gratified to see this bit of debunking from Gilad Edelman: ‘Covid Parties’ Are Not a Thing.

    The dreaded “Covid party” has come to Alabama. Even as the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the state reached record highs, news came out this week that college students in Tuscaloosa have been throwing parties with infected guests, then betting on the contagion that ensues. “They put money in a pot and they try to get Covid,” said City Council member Sonya McKinstry. “Whoever gets Covid first gets the pot. It makes no sense.”

    That much, at least, is true: This story makes no sense. Despite its implausibility and utter lack of valid sourcing, the fantasy of Alabama virus gamblers has nonetheless exploded across the internet, with slack-jawed coverage turning up in CNN, the New York Post, and the Associated Press, among many others. A representative headline declares, “Tuscaloosa students held parties, bet on who got coronavirus first.”

    ("But I saw it on the TV news!" Yeah, so did I. Shame on me, and you, for watching TV news and attaching one shred of credibility thereto.)


  • Veronique de Rugy channels another intrepid French economist: As Bastiat Would Say, Peer Past the Obvious With Pandemic Policies.

    [If you would like to brush up ahead of reading VdR's column, peruse M. Bastiat's essay "That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen."]

    Oh, how I wish we would have remembered to earnestly account for the unseen effects of policies put into place during this pandemic that will pop up in its aftermath.

    Take, for example, the massive amount of additional debt the federal government has imposed on future generations of Americans during the COVID-19 crisis. That which is seen is the money flowing from the federal government to the unemployed, to those taking leave due to rescue money given to businesses during the pandemic. While we might be aware in the abstract that there is an accompanying rise in U.S. government indebtedness, that which is not seen is the increase in taxes that must be paid by future generations. Nor do we see the slower economic growth that will be caused by the need to pay off this debt.

    Even less obvious are the unseen effects of making permanent the supposedly temporary creation of federal paid-leave entitlements. While it's easy to point to all the advantages of such a move for the 35% of women who didn't have any such benefits pre-COVID-19, it's more difficult to see the lower wages and employment that will result. Also hidden from our vision is the increase in employment discrimination fueled by this policy: When governments arbitrarily increase employers' costs to hire certain groups, fewer members of those groups get hired. The academic literature is clear that such legislation inflicts very real negative effects on women.

    Well, there are all these broken windows. Surely hiring all those people to replace them will bring the economy back, right?


  • The National Review editors bid Good Riddance to the Blaine Amendments.

    It took a century and a half, but the Supreme Court finally rejected the Blaine amendments. The Court’s decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue is a victory for religious believers, schoolchildren, poor and working-class parents, and the rule of law. It is a loss only for bigots, militant secularists, and the teachers’ unions. The scandal is that four members of the Court would have gone the other way.

    Kendra Espinoza, a Montana single mother working three jobs, had a scholarship to send her daughters to a private school of her choice; she chose Stillwater Christian School. The scholarship was partly funded by tax credits from the state that were available for parents to choose any private school, religious or not. Then, the Montana supreme court stepped in, ruling that because the program included religious schools, the whole thing had to be shut down for everyone.

    The reason was Montana’s Blaine amendment. […]

    New Hampshire's Constitution has a Blaine Amendment enacted in 1877, and the usual suspects (teacher unions, "civil liberties" groups) attempted to use it to shut down a law giving tax credits to businesses providing scholarships that could be used at religious schools.

    Fortunately, the NH Supreme Court let the law live. NHPR (aka "Commie Radio") has a good collection of its articles on the issue.


  • The "trustees and senior leadership" of Dartmouth College, at the other side of our fair state have emitted a Joint statement.

    As Dartmouth senior leaders, we want to express our strong support for the growing movement across the nation to put an end to systemic and systematic racism demonstrated so tragically by the recent killings of Black people at the hands of the police. […]

    Systemic and systematic, baby. Why stick just one meaningless adjective in front of a noun when you can use two?

    And coming soon to a reeducation camp near you:

    We will make implicit bias training mandatory for all students, faculty, and staff.

    It's important to point out that the obvious interpretation of the term "implicit bias training" is incorrect. It's not meant as a how-to!

    Here's the thing about "implicit bias training": it probably does not work.

    But that's not the point. The point is really getting that little joyful frisson inherent in making it mandatory. Shoving people around, bending them to your will.

    Which brings us to…


  • An LTE from Bob Dougherty of Newport, Lincoln County, Oregon. Background: Last week, the county ordered mandatory facemask-wearing, except for "people of color".

    The next day, the county said, uh, never mind about that exception. Oops.

    (Amusing CNN headline: "An Oregon county drops its mask exemption for people of color after racist response". Wait a minute, the response was racist? What about the exception itself?)

    Anyway, back to Bob's LTE: he remains dissatisfied.

    Mandatory face coverings seem to have caused quite a stir in Lincoln County recently. A flashing message board greets visitors with “Face Coverings Appreciated.” But where is the enforcement? Where there is no enforcement, there are no laws. Many of our own police officers do not wear face coverings.

    Apparently, even in Oregon, people will ignore arbitrary government decrees! Bob knows where the blame lies, and it is that pesky state across the country from Oregon:

    Recent research has shown that transmission of COVID-19 can be all but eliminated if everyone wore a face covering in public. But civil liberties trump best practices in the land of the free. After all, “Live Free Or Die” is the New Hampshire state motto — but at what cost?

    Bob, your drive-by slam at New Hampshire makes no sense whatsoever.


  • But across the pond, a publication named The New European hates Brexit, despises Boris Johnson, and apparently pays a writer named Michael White to write stuff in that vein: Boris Johnson’s Britain: Uncertainty, empty words and repeated failures. Which I otherwise not bother with, except:

    It’s wise to try and sympathise with ministers in a daunting situation which finds echoes in many countries and regions the world over. The mounting sense of crisis in the US – 4% of the world’s population, but 25% (125,000) of its Covid deaths – is painful to watch. Mostly southern states of the Texan ‘live free or die’ variety which re-opened too soon and too casually face resurgent outbreaks.[…]

    Texan live free or die? Michael, you ignorant slut, I don't think so.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I bet someone told Annette Bening she was finally going to win an Oscar for this. You've been nominated four times. This time, for sure!

Well, she didn't. But she really acted the crap out of her role here, playing an about-to-die Gloria Grahame. (IMDB trivia: "Annette Bening was fifty-nine-years-old at the time of this movie's release, making her two years older than Gloria Grahame was when she died.")

It centers around Ms. Grahame's 1978-1981 on/off romance with Peter Turner, a young Brit actor. Despite the three-decade age difference, they hit it off. Problems: Gloria's kind of a diva (of course), and is very sensitive to any reference to her age, or her predilection for younger guys. (In real life, she was married four times, the fourth time to her stepson from her second marriage. Scandalous! A female Woody Allen!)

And there are those health worries, which she tries to cure with apricot kernels and black grape juice. She avoids doctors, which doesn't turn out well.

As near as I can tell, no effort was made to recreate Ms. Grahame's amazing eyebrows for Ms. Bening. I swear they arched halfway up her forehead! But maybe I'm imagining that. (Ms. Bening admits she did attempt to mimic Grahame's eyebrow arch.)

URLs du Jour

2020-07-02

  • At National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru provides a quote from the "Princeton Open Campus Coalition", which is opposing "required courses in left-wing thought and mandatory 'diversity training' for faculty and staff".

    The demand for “anti-racist training” is nothing more than the institution of a wrongthink correctional program, and we strenuously oppose any attempt to require “cultural competency” or “unconscious bias” training for any member of the University community. This training would undoubtedly coerce members of the community to accept the premises and conclusions that proponents of these reeducation camps advance. There would be no room for any act of dissent or good-faith debate on whether a particular instance of speech or action indeed amounts to racism. Potential dissenters would be intimidated in an atmosphere of fear and potential retribution. We have no doubt that every member of the Princeton community, ourselves certainly included, would strongly and unequivocally identify with the cause of “anti-racism” . . . . But “anti-racism” is a vague and radically unhelpful term that will be filled in with question-begging conclusions by those who subscribe to the reigning orthodoxy on matters of race. Affirmative action, for example, has long been a matter of contention, not only in American political and legal discourse, but also in academic circles. Are we prepared to say, as the University of California system appears to have done, that opposition to affirmative action is “racist” and constitutes an impermissible “microaggression?” Other examples of controversial matters touching on race include, but are certainly not limited to, the historical accuracy of the New York Times ’s recently launched “1619 Project,” the relationship between police officers and their communities, illegal immigration and immigration enforcement, urban crime, the so-called “War on Drugs,” issues of family structure and father-absence in poor communities of every description, and welfare policy. These, and other, matters lie at the core of significant legal, political, and academic discourse. Proper engagement with the various sides of these debates is premised on the robust protection of the freedom to make reasoned arguments and freely and publicly explore different points of view on these contentious issues with no regard for whether these free pursuits of truth “trigger” others.

    I'm long gone from the University Near Here, but I wish someone there with some backbone would point out the unhealthy (and literally undiverse) rhetoric being emitted from the top: for UNH, there's only One True Way to approach issues of race, and they're gonna force-feed it to you.


  • At AEI, Alan D. Viard suggests you Ignore the hullabaloo about rebate payments to the dead.

    To begin, the payments to the dead comprised less than 1 percent of total rebate payments. Trying to identify and prevent those payments would have delayed all of the payments, in contravention of the CARES Act’s command that the rebates be paid “as rapidly as possible.” Even if the $1.4 billion of payments to the dead were improper, they would be a small price to pay to expedite $200 billion of urgent payments to the living. 

    In any event, the payments to the dead were legally proper. As I and several other observers have explained, people who were alive at the beginning of 2020 are clearly eligible for the rebates under the text of the CARES Act, even if they died later in the year before the payments were disbursed. Although the question is a little more complicated, careful analysis of the legislative text indicates that people who died in 2018 and 2019 are also eligible for the rebates.

    I'm generally opposed to Uncle Stupid sending money it doesn't have to anyone, living or dead. That bill is going to come due soon, and it will be no fun to pay it.

    But the bigger issue is all those mail-in November ballots. There's already every indication that the fraudsters will be ready to leap in. Add that to government's general incompetence at such massive endeavors, and you get a recipe for illegitimacy.


  • A plea from Jacob Sullum at Reason: Don’t Let the Pandemic Kill Religious Freedom.

    About a month after Bill de Blasio personally led a police raid on a Hasidic rabbi's funeral in Brooklyn, which he portrayed as an intolerable threat in the era of COVID-19, New York's mayor visited the same borough to address a tightly packed crowd of protesters who had gathered in response to George Floyd's death. Far from ordering them to disperse in the name of public health, the unmasked mayor enthusiastically expressed solidarity with the demonstrators.

    The contrast between de Blasio's anger at Jewish mourners and his solicitude toward political protesters figures prominently in last Friday's decision by a federal judge who deemed New York's pandemic-inspired restrictions on religious gatherings unconstitutional. The ruling, which said COVID-19 control measures violate the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom when they draw arbitrary distinctions between religious and secular conduct, is a warning to politicians across the country as they loosen the sweeping restrictions they imposed in the name of flattening the curve.

    I couldn't help but notice that folks like Nina Totenberg freaked out over the recent Espinosa ruling from SCOTUS: it breached the holy "high wall of separation between church and state"!

    And I don't think Nina et. al. had much to say about Mayor Bill's breaching of that wall.


  • I got 71% on Mark J. Perry's quiz on the Declaration of Independence. It's tough! See if you can do better in preparation for the Fourth.


  • And the news from Slashdot is pretty dire: A Massive Star Has Seemingly Vanished from Space With No Explanation.

    A decade ago, light from this colossal star brightened its entire host galaxy, which is officially known as PHL 293B and is nicknamed the Kinman Dwarf. But when scientists checked back in on this farflung system last summer, the glow of the star -- estimated to be roughly 100 times more massive than the Sun -- had been extinguished. The head-scratching discovery was announced in a study published on Tuesday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. "We were quite surprised when we couldn't find the star," said lead author Andrew Allan, a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin, in a call. "It is a very extreme star, and it has quite a strong wind, so we can distinguish it from the galaxy. That's what we couldn't see in the newer observations."

    I'm sure there's at least one commenter over there who quoted Giorgio Tsoukalos:


Last Modified 2020-07-03 7:00 AM EDT

Easy-Peasy Link Generator

[Update 2020-07-16: added some new logic to allow link target text to be provided on standard input. Prettified (slightly) the site-string chopping regex.]

First, a bit of background on my environment:

  • I use Google Chrome for my browser in Linux.

  • I use plain old vim in a terminal window to compose HTML for this blog.

  • And what I want to do all the time when composing HTML is to generate a link to the page displayed in the active tab in Chrome's current window.

For example, if I'm looking at this page in Chrome, I might say "Ooh, cool!" and want to insert the following into my HTML:

<a href="https://science.slashdot.org/story/20/07/01/1816253/a-massive-star-has-seemingly-vanished-from-space-with-no-explanation">A Massive Star Has Seemingly Vanished from Space With No Explanation</a>

That's not hard to do by hand: copy the link from Chrome into the terminal window, add in the surrounding code for the a tag, add the target text, don't forget the end tag (</a>), and we're done!

Yeah, it's not hard, but it can be tedious.

I'm sure people—much smarter people—have come up with good solutions for this. But I'm a DIY kind of guy. So eventually (it only took years), I wrote this small (43 68-line) Perl script to do that for me. For historical reasons (by which I mean: arbitrary and silly reasons), I named it ttb. Which stands for "Thing To Blog", and it's installed in my $HOME/bin directory.

My usual use is in vim command mode, bang-bang-ttb:

!!ttb

… which will replace the current line with the HTML link:

<a href="URL">target</a>

where URL is (duh) the URL of the active tab of Chrome's current window.

The target link text is determined by the following logic:

  • If the current line contains any (non-whitespace) text, use that for the target text. (After trimming any leading or trailing whitespace.)
  • Otherwise, if any command-line arguments are specified, join them together with spaces, using the result as the target text.
  • Otherwise, use the HTML title of the displayed page as the target text.

That might look a bit convoluted, but… well, it is. But it works OK for me.

Notes:

  • The script assumes you have installed the chromix-too Chrome extension package. Which is easy enough to get. In Fedora, I install the npm package first:

    # dnf install npm

    or equivalent sudo if you prefer that. Then:

    # npm install -g chromix-too

    This package contains a client-server pair: chromix-too and chromix-too-server. The server can be run after Chrome itself starts up. (I run both Chrome and chromix-too-server as startup commands.)

  • The script executes the client via the shell command:

    $ chromix-too raw chrome.tabs.query '{ "active":true, "currentWindow":true }'

    which produces JSON output about the active tab in the current window. The JSON perl module (I think it's installed by default in Fedora) is required to decode that into a Perl structure. The decode function returns an "array of hash", but I think the array should always have just one element, so we just pop that.

  • Ugly things probably happen if you run this without the browser or the chromix server running. I should probably provide a clean exit in that case.

  • I noticed a lot of sites (mostly blogs) have HTML page titles that append a uniform site string. There's an ugly ad hoc regex in the code to chop those off. (Or should that be ad hack?)

That's a dreadful lot of verbiage about such a short script. As usual, this is not earth-shattering code, but I hope someone finds it useful, if only for tutorial purposes.

And if you know of a better way to do this… don't tell me, OK?

The source may be found at GitHub.


Last Modified 2020-07-16 6:02 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-07-01

[Amazon Link]

  • Our Amazon Product du Jour is yet another book pushed by the Church of Holy Wokeness. (The University Near Here, for example, plugs it here and here.) A New Yorker review by Kelefa Sanneh attempts to make sense out of it (and also White Fragility, which we looked at a couple days ago): The Fight to Redefine Racism.

    Sixteen years ago, in 2003, the student newspaper at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a historically black institution in Tallahassee, published a lively column about white people. “I don’t hate whites,” the author, a senior named Ibram Rogers, wrote. “How can you hate a group of people for being who they are?” He explained that “Europeans” had been “socialized to be aggressive people,” and “raised to be racist.” His theory was that white people were fending off racial extinction, using “psychological brainwashing” and “the AIDS virus.” Perhaps the most incendiary line appeared at the end, after the author’s byline and e-mail address: “Ibram Rogers’ column will appear every Wednesday.”

    Well, that didn't work out. Later, after a name change from "Rogers" to "Kendi":

    In the thirteen years since his abortive college-newspaper column, Kendi had become ever more convinced that racism, not race, was the central force in American history, and so he reached back to 1635 to show how malleable racism could be. The preachers who justified slavery used racist arguments, he wrote, but so did many of the abolitionists—the ubiquity of racism meant that no one was immune to its seductive power, including black people. In his view, the pioneering black sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois was propping up racist ideas in 1897, when he condemned “the immorality, crime, and laziness among the Negroes.” So, too, was Barack Obama, when, as a Presidential candidate in 2008, he decried “the erosion of black families.” Although Obama noted that this erosion was partly due to “a lack of economic opportunity,” he also made an appeal to black self-reliance, saying that members of the African-American community needed to face “our own complicity in our condition.” Kendi saw statements like these as reflections of a persistent but delusional idea that something is wrong with black people. The only thing wrong, he maintained, was racism, and the country’s failure to confront and defeat it.

    If Du Bois and Obama are considered racists, then we got a problem.

    The problem with "redefining racism" is (at least) twofold:

    1. It's not as if the term hadn't been already been pounded into vague meaninglessness. People wanted to maintain its (deserved) opprobrium while (um) broadening to encompass … well, whatever was found problematic. To the point it became what Orwell said about the term "fascism": it "has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’."
    2. And if you "redefine racism", we're gonna need a new word for "invidious stereotyping based on skin color".

    So I can't recommend that you buy Kendi's book, but if you do, I'd be happy if you used the link.


  • P. J. O'Rourke writes at American Consequences: Killing time, part II. What's Peej been up to?

    So I still have a lot of time on my hands. One thing I’ve been doing is reading books, in particular books about people who had it worse than we’re having it… (spoiler alert!)

    • Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death – Everybody dies at the end.
    • Nevil Shute’s On the Beach – Everybody dies at the end.
    • Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle – Everybody dies at the end.
    • The Book of Revelation in the Bible – Everybody dies in the end unless they’ve been very, very good. And we haven’t.

    I’ve let my wife cajole me into doing yoga. To make this less embarrassing – and because my “Mountain Pose” was more like a “Molehill Pose” – I’ve been renaming the yoga poses. So far, I’ve changed “Cobra Pose” to “Run Over by a Car Pose,” “Child’s Pose” to “Peevish Brat Pose,” “Warrior Pose” to “Teargassed Fleeing Protestor Pose,” “Corpse Pose” to “Snoring on the Yoga Mat Pose,” and let’s not even go there with “Downward Doggy-Style Pose.”

    You'll also want to check his suggestions for moderating one's alcohol consumption: "gag-a-cat cocktails".


  • [Amazon Link]
    Quillette is still a free-speech zone, so Michael Shellenberger found an outlet for his mea culpa: On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare. Let's skip down to his list of "facts few people know":

    • Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”

    • The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”

    • Climate change is not making natural disasters worse

    • Fires have declined 25 percent around the world since 2003

    • The amount of land we use for meat—humankind’s biggest use of land—has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska

    • The build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, not climate change, explain why there are more, and more dangerous, fires in Australia and California

    • Carbon emissions are declining in most rich nations and have been declining in Britain, Germany, and France since the mid-1970s

    • The Netherlands became rich, not poor while adapting to life below sea level

    • We produce 25 percent more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter

    • Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change

    • Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels

    • Preventing future pandemics requires more not less “industrial” agriculture

    Interesting note: Forbes apparently published Shellenberger's article on their website, then yanked it. Et tu, Forbes?

    Shellenberger has a book out, Amazon link up there on the right, it's on my get-at-library list.


  • A bold suggestion from David Harsanyi at National Review (NRPLUS, sorry): Honor Warren G. Harding over Woodrow Wilson

    Princeton University has announced that it plans to remove the name of former president Woodrow Wilson from its public policy school because of his segregationist views. Other institutions with Wilson’s name will likely be pressured to follow suit.

    Good riddance, Woodrow. Wilson was one of the most despicable characters in 20th-century American politics: a national embarrassment. The Virginian didn’t merely hold racist “views;” he re-segregated the federal civil service. He didn’t merely involve the United States in a disastrous war in Europe after promising not to do so; he threw political opponents and anti-war activists into prison. Wilson, the first president to show open contempt for the Constitution and the Founding, was a vainglorious man unworthy of honor.

    Fortunately, we have the perfect replacement for Wilson: Warren Harding, the most underappreciated president in American history, a joyful champion of civil rights and republicanism. Harding deserves to be reinserted into the nation’s consciousness on the merits of his presidency alone. But considering that he also negated much of Wilson’s calamitous legacy, we have an even better reason to honor him.

    Harding was imperfect, but does not deserve the bad rap he received from history.


  • And our Google LFOD alert, rang for a recent op-ed from Rabbi Brad Bloom of Hilton Head Island, published in the Island Packet: Beaufort County leaders have moral, faith-based duty to protect public today. He relates a traumatic experience:

    I recently saw a car from New Hampshire with the state’s motto “Live Free or Die.” Frankly I took a step back for a second and felt a chill down my back just gazing at that plate.

    Unfortunately, the chill Rabbi Bloom felt was not a favorable reaction to a saying in favor of sweet freedom, but instead the dread worry that people deluded by such libertarian slogans might not adequately mask up.

    Hilton Head is in South Carolina, whose motto is "Dum Spero Spiro", meaning 'While I breathe, I hope'. ("And when I don't breathe, it's probably because I died from Covid-19, thanks to some unmasked LFOD guy.")

    On June 29, South Carolina reported 1324 new cases of Covid-19.

    In comparison, New Hampshire—which is full of LFOD plates, Rabbi—reported 13 new cases.

Confessions of an Innocent Man

[Amazon Link]

This is another book off WSJ reviewer Tom Nolan's Best Mystery Books of 2019 list. Six down, four to go.

Tom has a pretty broad definition of "mystery". There's a negligible amount of whodunit content here. But that's OK. It's a page-turner.

Right from page one, we learn that the first-person narrator, Rafael Zhettah, is keeping a couple of people, Sarah and Leonard, locked up. A countdown timer shows how much time is left on their "sentence" (initially 2,444 days). Rafael provides them a TV (stuck on CNN, 16 hours/day, now that's cruel and unusual punishment). And he addresses them as "your honors". Hm.

How did that happen? We find out eventually. Pre-kidnapping, Rafael was on death row, convicted of the brutal murder of his billionaire wife. He's innocent (see the title), but thanks to a lazy investigation, zealous prosecution, and a weak alibi… sorry, Rafael, get ready for your Pentobarbital injection.

Given the prologue, we know that Rafael gets out, and (somehow) decides to exact revenge on Sarah and Leonard, and the path is a twisty one.

The author, David R. Dow, is an active opponent of the death penalty, founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network. So there's some advocacy here mixed in with the plot. Depending on your own feelings about capital punishment, you can either roll your eyes or punch the air in agreement.

As said, the book's a page-turner, but strains credulity at times. The biggest disbelief-suspending hurdle for me: Rafael just happens to own a bit of Kansas property that has an unusual plot-critical feature, undisclosed until page 167. No spoilers here, but geez, I said, isn't that convenient?